Fireworks can terrify a dog.
I suppose some cats may be bothered by them, too, but I’ve never had a client inquire about a kitty afraid of loud noises. I think it’s a safe assumption that if it hasn’t been a problem in 30 years of practice, it’s not common.
Many dogs, on the other hand, really suffer with this phobia.
Bear in mind that they can hear lower-volume noises than we can, so even if the first firecracker is miles away, when she starts shaking, you know it’s time for you to act.
Your first action should be to resist your instinct to comfort and caress your pup. Doing so will actually convey that you, too, are worried, and that will reinforce her fear, as well as her fear reaction. Talk to your pet in a high-pitched voice. She will interpret that as a happy tone and she will think, “Gee, if my family is happy, maybe I should be, too.”
You may obtain tranquilizers from your pet’s doctor. Administer them as soon as you hear the very first “pop,” or the first sign that your dog is nervous. Be sure to ask the duration of the tranquilizer’s effect, so you will know when to repeat the dosage, if needed. Fourth of July and New Year’s Day fireworks can last for a week or more.
If “fear of booms” is a recurring problem for your dog, consider desensitization. You can obtain CDs with instructions here. If you follow all of the steps and still can’t make your pet comfortable, consider having your veterinarian refer you to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine who specializes in solving problems of animal misconduct. He is trained in the use of tactics, techniques and medications to handle problems from separation anxiety to phobias of all kinds.
Another approach is a “topical” one and came from research by an autistic Ph. D. who watched cattle become calm when compressed laterally in a livestock-handling contraption called a squeeze chute. Her name is Temple Grandin, and her work can be read here.
The concept of such deep touch therapy gave birth to the Thundershirt, a tight-fitting garment which, when worn by a frightened dog, greatly calms him. The Thundershirt can be purchased here.
While we are on the subject of fireworks, let me interject a personal, non-pet story. When I was age nine I took a trip to visit my Uncle Sam and Aunt Polly. On the way I stopped at one of those pyrotechnic tents on the side of the road and spent a lot of my own money to purchase a mountain of Black Cats. Upon arriving at the farm I located a tree with a fork in it, a piece of iron pipe and an ample supply of corn cobs.
Time after time I installed a cob into the pipe, put a firecracker in the other end and lit it. No eye protection. No hearing protection.
Fortunately, my eyes didn’t suffer, but my ears sure did. Fifty years later, as I sit in Sicily’s Italian Buffet writing this column, I have such tinnitus that I can hear the ringing even over all of the ambient noise of this restaurant.
So, parents, please provide safety glasses and earplugs for yourselves and your children.
One last thing.
Don’t forget to celebrate the fact that this holiday is about the independence we enjoy in our incomparable country.
Happy Fourth of July, Dr. Randolph.