North East News-Journal intern
The loud sounds from fireworks are not common occurrences. It is important to make sure pets are properly cared for so they do not react out of stress and anxiety to the festivities taking place this Fourth of July.
Dr. Gerald T. Ramsdell, local veterinarian for 25 years and chief of staff at North East Animal Hospital, stressed the importance of a pet’s well-being as the holiday approaches.
“Their instinctive nature is to be on guard, so noises alert them,” Ramsdell said. “Certain dogs have a built-in anxiety related to noise, and, if you don’t address it in the dog, that anxiety turns into a phobia, and that phobia turns into a fear.”
Pets are put on edge by fireworks because they’re loud, unpredictable and come across as threatening. Some pets even feel trapped, like they cannot escape the commotion brought on by fireworks, Ramsdell explained.
“Owners will try to put their dogs away in the house or confine them in a room, but the anxiety in these dogs will cause them to tear up the room, eat the drywall, eat through the door,” Ramsdell said. “Dogs really can’t work through that anxiety alone; they’re dogs. They can’t really rationalize.”
Although reactions to fireworks can be extreme in dogs and cats, Ramsdell believes that there is no reason a pet cannot be helped. It just takes effort.
For a long-term effect, owners can train their dogs. According to Veterinary Centers of America, it may take months to train a dog to stay calm during a holiday like the Fourth of July, but it can be done, and it can be more beneficial to a pet in the long run.
“My perfect answer would be to train and deregulate the dog’s anxiety, especially with chronic noise phobias. Teaching them to go to their safe place and rewarding them for remaining calm is the more permanent solution to the issue.”
By simply rewarding an animal for keeping its composure at the encounter of a small sound and then gradually exposing the animal to more intense levels of noise while it remains relaxed, an animal can grow desensitized. The process is called counter-conditioning.
However, despite the convenient result of training, Ramsdell says that many pet owners don’t have the time to train their dog to be desensitized to noises.
“Most clients don’t have the time to properly train and down-regulate the anxiety in their dogs. So, they either want a sedative or an anti-anxiety medication,” Ramsdell said.
Ramsdell admitted that the hospital is reluctant to sedate an animal during fireworks because the animals are not able to think as a result. They still fear what is going on, they just can’t react.
Rather, Ramsdell recommends anti-anxiety medications. Two of the most commonly used medications at NEAH are Trazodone and Composure. Trazodone is commonly used for behavioral problems and phobias and assists dogs in remaining calm during events like the Fourth of July.
“It makes their brains more accepting of what is going on,” Ramsdell explained. “It helps them understand that the world didn’t come to an end when the fireworks went off.”
Composure is a natural, herbal treat that eases their anxieties.