Talking dogs: Use measures, even medication, to calm dogs during fireworks

July 6, 2015

With the Fourth of July just around the corner, many of us dog owners must begin to prepare for the inevitable: fireworks. The fact that our county and state are even allowing the sale of fireworks to the public during a severe drought is ridiculous, but, alas, that is a topic for another column.

The startling bangs, booms and whistles of fireworks going off at random times, and sometimes for a number of days, can cause your dog to become moderately to severely frightened and anxious, and all dog owners should take some precautionary measures during this trying time of year.

Do your very best to place your dog in a safe environment when even an occasional firework is likely to occur. At minimum, your dog should be indoors, with ambient music or white noise playing in the background to mask the sounds of the outdoors. If your dog has a tendency to react and panic when fireworks are heard, containment in a crate should be considered for your pet’s own safety. Dogs can do incredible things to escape when they are afraid; chewing through doors, jumping fences, diving through windows and digging to freedom are all within the realm of possibility, but this risk can be minimized with some planning and placing of your dog in a safe environment.

Dogs that become moderately to highly stressed at the sound of fireworks often benefit greatly from proper medication. But one must be sure to give the right drug. Acepromazine is often prescribed by veterinarians for dogs with noise phobias, but it is a poor choice. Dr. Marty Becker ("America’s Veterinarian") writes, "Once widely prescribed for noise phobias, Acepromazine not only doesn’t work, it might make things much worse."

Dr. Karen L. Overall, one of the leading veterinary behaviorists in the world, published in DVM360: "Some dogs experience fear only in specific situations, such as during fireworks or other events with loud noises. Benzodiazepines (BZs) can help in these situations by reducing fear as needed right when these situations occur. BZs take effect quickly, so they can treat impending fear within a short period of time — the same way an aspirin relieves a headache shortly after you take it. . . .A minor drawback is that BZs must be given to the dog before the fearful event begins. Optimally, the medicine should be given one hour before the beginning of the scary event, or, at minimum, it should be given before the dog shows any signs of fear or worry, such as stress panting, trembling, tail tucking, pupil dilation, sweating paw pads, etc."

Some common benzodiazepines are diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), lorazepam (Ativan) and clonazepam (Klonopin). These drugs work by increasing the activity of a chemical in the brain that interferes with activation of the fear networks. They can be used on a short-term basis and are a far better choice than Acepromazine.

Overall further states: "I know that the common ‘treatment’ for storm and noise phobias and veterinary office visits is Acepromazine. In truth, I wish this medication would be placed at the far back of a top shelf and used only exceptionally. Acepromazine is a dissociative anesthetic, meaning that it scrambles perceptions. Ask yourself if a scrambling of perceptions will make an anxious or uncertain dog worse or better. It’s always worse, and we make many if not most dogs more sensitive to storms by using this drug. In part, this is also because sensitivity to noise is heightened."

Share this information with your veterinarian, and together make the best and most informed decision concerning the proper and effective medication to offer your dog during this stressful time.

 

 





 


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