With New Year’s Eve around the corner, it is important to remember that many pets, especially dogs, are frightened by loud and sudden noises such as fireworks or thunder. This fear can range from mild anxiety to full panic, which can lead to dangerous situations.
There are many reasons why fireworks and thunderstorms can cause fear in dogs. Kit Darling, infection control coordinator at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explains some of these reasons and has advice for comforting scared dogs during these situations.
With excellent auditory senses, dogs can hear better than humans in both range and frequency, Darling said. If a noise is already loud to human ears, it is even louder for dogs. They are also often scared by sudden flashes of light.
“Dogs like predictability and routine,” Darling said. “Both fireworks and thunderstorms disrupt routines and are unpredictable. Dogs may feel stress when they do not know what is happening.”
Dogs may also be frightened by fireworks or thunderstorms, if they have had a traumatic experience with loud noises in the past.
While some dogs become anxious in by these situations, others may not have a reaction at all.
“Dogs, like people, may react differently to stress and negative experiences. Some dogs might be naturally easygoing, or they may have been exposed to loud noises when they were young,” Darling explained.
Desensitizing puppies to loud, sudden noises can help reduce fear later in life; puppies can be trained between the ages of 3 weeks and 3 months to associate these sounds with positive rewards, rather than fear, according to Darling.
If a dog does show fear in response to loud noises, Darling said it is important that owners not take the dog to a fireworks show.
“Keep your dog inside during fireworks and thunderstorms. Provide them with a special area in which they can feel safe, such as their crate or bed,” she said.
She also suggested covering windows to block flashing lights and putting the dog in an anxiety wrap, which provides a gentle, constant pressure that helps to reduce fear and anxiety.
Darling also recommends playing with dogs or giving them chew toys to distract them from the loud noises. Playing soft music or having the TV on can also help. She said it is very important to stay calm and relaxed, as dogs can sense people’s emotions and tend to react in a similar way.
“If your dog continues to be frightened by fireworks or thunderstorms, make an appointment with your veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist to discuss additional behavior measures or medications,” Darling advised.
Darling warned that scared dogs may use drastic measures to escape and run, so it is best to walk dogs before fireworks begin.
“If you have to go outside with your dog, keep it on a leash,” she said. “Be sure your dog is microchipped and/or has identification tags with current contact information.”
In addition to keeping dogs calm during fireworks, there are other ways to keep them safe during the holiday season.
Darling reminds pet owners to avoid feeding dogs dangerous foods such as turkey skin or dark meat, turkey bones, garlic, sage, onions, grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, chocolate, bread dough, the artificial sweetener xylitol, alcohol, and human medications.
All pets should be kept away from decorative plants, flowers, candles, foil, and electrical cords. Finally, because dogs may become scared or overwhelmed when a lot of visitors are over, it is important to provide them with a quiet area of the house to which to retreat.
The holiday season is best when spent with family, including pets. It is important to keep those pets safe and happy so that they can enjoy this time of the year as much as we do.
Pet Talk is a service of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to email@example.com.