We get many calls and questions about what to do when a furry family member develops a fear of fireworks, thunder, or any other loud noise. Some spend their entire life with this phobia, while others can develop the fear over time. There are even others that seem to be fine one time, and fearful the next, with no apparent reason for the switch. As for WHY this happens, you will find as many opinions as there are mosquitoes in the southeast, but until one of us humans learns to speak Labrador, we will never truly have an answer. What we aim to address here is what to do WHEN it happens, as it can be very sad to see your typically happy pet cower in a corner, shaking uncontrollably, and flinching every time the boom comes.
Here’s the trick. You have to deal with the fear BEFORE it comes. Whether it’s behavioral modification, medication, or a combination of a few items we will discuss below, the best way to deal with the issue is to prepare for it before it is upon you. Here’s some things to try with your pet, and to use a “belt and suspenders” approach, many of them work well in combination with others.
EXERCISE. One of our favorite sayings at Apex is “A tired pet is a good pet.” This mantra applies to a host of items, but in this case we are talking about wearing your pet out so that they are too tired to care about the noises. If the meteorologist is calling for afternoon thunderstorms, take your dog on a long walk or a jog that morning and they may sleep through the storm. If an event is coming up that usually brings out the fireworks (New Year’s, Independence Day, maybe your pet goes with you to Disney World where they shoot off fireworks every night…), be sure you exercise kitty so he’s more interested in the cat nap than what is going on outside.
ISOLATION. No, we’re not talking about a punishment, we’re simply saying to put the pets in an interior room of the house without exterior walls/windows so they do not see the flashes and it helps muffle the sounds. Laundry rooms and bathrooms work well for this, and don’t forget a comfy bed, some toys, and a bowl of fresh water.
DISTRACTION. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. Perhaps you play some calming music to drown out the noise. Maybe Fluffy gets a favorite treat toy to redirect attention from the environment. The puzzle toys that dispense a small treat every so often work great for pets that are food motivated.
THUNDER SHIRTS (or equivalent). Some pet guardians report that the swaddling effect of these garments have a soothing effect on their pets.
SET A GOOD EXAMPLE. Your pets know when you are nervous. If you get worked up, they see it, and confirms their suspicion that the world may be ending. Go about your regular activities and do not try to console your pets. Think about this: If your doctor comes into the exam room after getting your bloodwork results with a happy/carefree demeanor, you are instantly relieved even before they say anything. If they enter with a long face, put their arm around you, and tell you everything will be okay, how wild does your mind start to race and how anxious do you get?
MEDICATION. Yes, there are some medications that may be used (and some that certainly should not) to help your pets. Some may be found over the counter (OTC), while others are by prescription only. What is right for your specific pet and their specific circumstance should be discussed with your pet’s veterinarian to determine what will be the safest medication for them to receive.
Again, many of these work great in combination, and what works for your pet may not work for others. So mix and match a little to see what helps them weather the storm most confidently, but do everything you can to get your plan in the works before your pet gets worked up. Once they start down the terror trail, it can be difficult to impossible to bring them back. Maybe a long walk and some calming music is all he/she needs. Maybe a Thunder Shirt and a puzzle ball is enough to sooth the nerves and distract them. Let them show you what helps them the most and please call us at Apex if you just cannot seem to find that magic combination. We’re here to help and have a few other tricks up our sleeves.