#28-Fireworks Fear – Comfort Scared Pets with Good Management

#28 Fireworks Fear – Comfort Scared Pets with Good Management

Jeff Nichol, DVM
Veterinary Behavior Medicine
Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Centers
Albuquerque and Santa Fe

I invite you to peruse and use any of the information from this and past nmvetlist missives. You will find the entire archive on the For Veterinarians page of my website, drjeffnichol.com/

Startled by earsplitting blasts, many otherwise stable pets will endure almost continual panic this weekend. Scared dogs may hide, tremble, drool, cry or howl, and even urine soil, vomit or pass diarrhea. Many get clingy but some escape the home and risk getting hit in the road.

A freaked-out dog or cat needs reassurance, but shelter from the bombardment is even better. Anxious pets should be allowed to find relief anywhere they feel better. A bathroom, dark closet, or an open pet crate, located away from windows and exterior walls, should be available. Unpredictable flashes trigger even more fear. I encourage my clients to close the blinds and turn off the TV.

Some of the racket can be cancelled out with a white noise machine or a loud fan. “Through a Dog’s Ear” is music that promotes canine-specific calming brain waves.  Mutt Muffs, well tolerated by most dogs, also help dampen loud noises. Some feel better wearing a Thundershirt. I recommend promoting a calm emotional state by plugging in an Adaptil pheromone diffuser. All of the above can be ordered online.

A compelling, canine-specific behavioral opportunity can also make a difference. Foraging for their survival is an innate behavior for all dogs, wild or domestic. With its morning meal withheld a food-motivated dog can focus on extracting its sustenance from a food-dispensing toy or puzzle much as he or she would scavenge in the wild. With survival as their primary focus they’ll be less inclined to react to noise stimuli.

There are oral antianxiety medications that can be given as-needed. Benzodiazepines like alprazolam and lorazepam are good in part because they are so safe. The client can add more as-needed. The duration of effect will be about 3-4 hours. They become effective in about 40 minutes. They are best given preemptively.

  • Alprazolam dose:
    • Dogs: 0.02-0.1 mg/kg q4h.
    • Available in 0.25, 0.5, & 1.0, & 2.0 mg tablets; 1.0 mg/ml liquid.
  • Lorazepam dose:
    • Cats: 0.03-0.08 mg/kg q4-6h
    • Available in 0.5, 1.0, & 2.0 mg tablets; 2.0 mg/ml solution.

Trazodone is a good choice when a longer acting (6-8 hours) anxiolysis/sedation is desired. Trazodone can be used as-needed and takes about 2 hours to become effective. It is best given preemptively.

  • Dose:
    • Dogs:
      • <10 kg: < 25 mg. q 12-24 h
      • 10-20 kg: 50 mg. q 12-24 h
      • 20-40 kg: 100 mg. q 12-24 h
      • >40 kg: 100 mg. q 12-24 h
    • Cats:
      • 50mg/cat
      • 25mg/cat for petite cats
  • Available in 50, 100, 150, & 300 mg tablets.

Sileo is a new oral-transmucosal treatment that is placed between a dog’s lower lip and gum. With no sedation or side effects Sileo, best administered prior to the onset of auditory stimuli, can also be given after fireworks or a storm is underway. Sileo starts to work in about 20 minutes and lasts 2 hours. It can be repeated as needed. Like benzodiazepines, Sileo be used in combination with all of the above.

I recommend avoiding acepromazine because it has very little anxiolytic effect. Pet owners will notice sedation that they may mistake for reduced anxiety. Unable to physically act out their fear, groggy pets on ace are trapped in a “chemical straightjacket”, leading to intense panic.

Controlling noise phobia is important. Freaked-out pets who are left to fend for themselves become increasingly sensitized to noise stimuli and worsen with each terrifying event.

I invite you to peruse and use any of the information from this and past nmvetlist missives. You will find the entire archive on the For Veterinarians page of my website, drjeffnichol.com/


All the best,