Wednesday, 19 January 2022
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Critter Corner: It’s time to prepare for fireworks

The weeks before the Fourth of July, my social media was crammed with “Oh no, what do I do?! My [insert pet] freaks out!” posts.

Waiting until a few days or weeks before July 4 is not enough time to help your pet. Before I look at a few things that can be done to help your pet, I must recommend working with a trainer or veterinary behaviorist. The “why” will be touched on in each section. Now on to a few things to consider doing in preparation for the next Fourth.

Counterconditioning and desensitization are techniques we can use to help change an emotional response to things. By using great associations and beginning with a low level of the stressors, we can try to have the pet associate the sounds with good things coming. However, if not done carefully, it is possible for the pet to become fearful of the things we are using to change the emotional response to the sounds.

Various wraps help through pressure. These have a positive effect for some pets. With others, there is no change. It is something to try. However, discuss their use with a trainer or vet behaviorist.

If they are not used properly, these wraps can cause stress for some pets. The pet may associate the wearing of the wrap with the scary thing coming, making the wrap a stressor.

Pheromone sprays and diffusers may help certain cats and dogs. There are essential oils that help with stress. However, discuss the use with a vet who is trained in their use. Some essential oils that are safe for humans can be dangerous for pets. In this area we have vets who work with EOs.

Stress alters body chemistry, and medications can help address that problem. Medication is a valuable tool for many situations, but it can take time to find the best dosage and the best medication. Some medications sometimes recommended by vets (acepromazine for one) do not address stress hormones. Instead, I strongly suggest contacting a vet behaviorist to assist in finding the best medications and combinations. We have two excellent ones in Northern Virginia.

Help create a secure area in your house. A fan, TV, air conditioner, soothing music, a room in a lower level where the outside sounds are muted, places to hide, special treats and scattered catnip may all help distract your pet from the fireworks.  

Be there to comfort your pet. You cannot punish away fear. It is an emotion, not a behavior. It is OK to cuddle if it helps your pet.

Finally, management to prevent escape during fireworks is vital. Many of the online lost dog postings I saw had a few things in common: dog ran past an electric fence, dog jumped a barrier fence, dog slipped collar and dog walked off lead in yard.  

Contrary to popular belief, shock fences will not contain a dog who wants to get out. Terrified dogs can jump fences we assume they could not. Also, never take your dog to fireworks events. Try not to take your dog outside when people are actively setting off fireworks around you. Consider walking the dog on a body harness as well as a buckle collar, if you must take him out when there are explosions.

Start preparing now for next year’s fireworks. No matter how much people complain about the stress they cause pets, fireworks are here to stay. Therefore, we need to work to reduce the stress they place on our pets — and sooner rather than later. 


The Bark Box

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