Avoid the Fear Triggers; Reduce the Anxiety

Balloon Fiesta is great fun for us, but it’s not much of a party for pets who freak out from falling cosmic monsters. Every exposure worsens their fears. The far-off hiss of a propane burner or a multi-colored speck in the distance can trigger overwhelming terror.

Phobias are not logical. Dogs saddled with this irrational fear haven’t been physically assaulted by balloons but like humans with unfounded anxieties, they need special consideration. Hiding, trembling, and nervous panting are indicators of real distress.

You can keep a balloon phobic dog’s brain intact by helping him avoid his fear triggers. Let him outside early -before the creatures launch. Prevent him from getting spooked indoors by lowering the window blinds and playing classical music pretty loud. A noisy fan or recordings of white, pink, or brown noise may also help. Some nervous Nellie’s can be distracted with games. Obedience commands can shift her focus to earning interactions and food rewards.

Some dogs become hypervigilant, standing warily in the doorway, scanning the sky before venturing into the perilous territory of their own backyards.  You can diminish this hypervigilant reaction by making distant UFOs difficult for your frightened dog to recognize. A comfortable face covering, called a Calming Cap, can be a useful and rather stylish accessory.

Here is what not to do: Don’t comfort a wigged-out cat or dog; this only validates the anxiety. Don’t force her outside to “face her fears”.  Overwhelming panic can only intensify the terror a dog associates with those sights and sounds. Don’t laugh or ridicule. A humiliated dog may lose trust in her leader. And avoid the tranquilizer acepromazine. This drug sedates but does nothing to reduce anxiety.

There is better living through modern chemistry. Many pets with mild to moderate fear reactions feel calmer with Anxitane, a natural, chewable amino acid supplement available from your veterinarian. More severe cases require a fast acting prescription medication like alprazolam or lorazepam (safer for cats). You can “Just Say No” to drugs but you are not the one who’s suffering. Frantic, phobic pets are miserable; they need real help. Unless a committed pet owner takes control right from the get-go the problem will worsen every year.