Do you remember the fun and freedom of summer when you were a child? Maybe your family pets felt the same joy, splashing in the creek or curling up while their favorite family member daydreamed on the porch.
Unfortunately, that idyllic scenario doesn’t play out for many pets today who suffer from extreme fear of thunderstorms and fireworks, two things that come hand in hand with summer in most parts of North America.
As you know, I have dedicated the past several years and the rest of my career as a veterinarian to helping prevent and treat fear, anxiety, and stress in our pets through the Fear Free movement. This one is personal for me, as our own dogs Quixote and Quora have come increasingly fearful of loud noises, especially fireworks, as they’ve aged.
Many people are very hesitant to ask their veterinarian for help with this problem, as they’re uncomfortable giving sedating medications to their pets. I understand this; no pet should be given unnecessary drug treatment!
But there are many things you can do that don’t involve drugs: Creating a “den” for your pet in a closet, interior bathroom, or other quiet place is one, although many pets don’t want to be off by themselves when they’re frightened. These pets need to be in contact with their humans if at all possible.
Another is a wrap such as the Thundershirt, Anxiety Wrap, or Calmz vest. You can even use a scarf. These tools can often calm mild anxiety in pets, and be used in combination with other steps to help your pet relax during stressful situations.
Then there are the “chill pills,” supplements such as Zylkene, Solliquin, Composure, Anxitane, and similar products that, when used over time, take the edge of a pet’s reactivity to stressful stimuli like loud noises and storms.
I often recommend closing the blinds or drapes, putting on the television, an audio-book, soothing music, or a fan to help mute the frightening sounds.
Contrary to what you might have heard, yes, you should comfort your pet when he’s scared! The idea that we should withhold our comfort because it will “reward” their fear is based on a complete misunderstanding of what fear is. Fear is a physical and emotional state, not a behavior. You should absolutely stay calmly, lovingly responsive to your pet, including making gentle physical contact, when he seeks this from you during a stressful event.
What you don’t want to do is make him more anxious with your anxiety. Don’t use a high voice. Don’t flutter and agonize. Stay calm yourself, and let your love and serenity communicate to him that everything is fine and you’ll keep him safe.
Finally, please don’t rule out medication. Drugs such as alprazolam (generic for Xanax), trazodone, and the new Sileo can not only calm your pet but actually help break the association between noise and the fear reaction, which can eventually make your pet less reactive to those sounds.
Don’t, however, use the drug ace promazine, also known as just “ace.” This is a sedating medication that will quiet your dog and make him less able to react to his environment — which can look to you like he’s less scared — but has no anti-anxiety effect and appears to increase, not decrease, noise phobias over time.
If you think your pet could benefit from supplements or medications, don’t wait until he needs them to get started. Talk to your veterinarian today and see if you can make summer the joyful experience for your pet is was for you as a child!
Wags, meows, and the occasional neigh,
Dr. Marty Becker,