Much to the consternation of many companion pet parents,
many U.S. states are legalizing the sale of fireworks and/or changing the times
fireworks can be set off. Indeed, cats and dogs may experience a panic attack
to all sudden and loud noises such as fireworks, thunder, alarms, sirens,
gunfire and air shows. Of course, others may only react to some of those noises.
Stress signals in dogs include looking away, lip licking,
yawning, ears back, “whale eye”, lifting a paw, tail tucking, freezing, urination,
vomiting, diarrhea, hiding, or the worst, running away.
What is a pet parent to do during these times of stress? We
have a few ideas that may be helpful. Some of them may work or may not work for
your dogs or cats.
Feed – Don’t Overfeed
If you are having a backyard barbecue, please ask your
family and guests not to indulge your companion dog with snacks or nibbles.
While your dog may be able to handle the additional food on other occasions,
the noise might induce stress vomiting, diarrhea or even pancreatitis.
You may also want to consider feeding your pet’s dinner
earlier than usual. A dog’s gastrointestinal time is usually six to eight
hours. If the firework display is set to start around 9:30 PM, think about
feeding around 3:30. If you free-feed your dog, consider taking it away earlier
in the day.
Exercise reduces stress. In fact, one study showed that like
humans, dogs had significantly increased endocannabinoid (eCB) signaling
following high-intensity endurance running. The argument can be made that eCB
signaling is an important regulatory system in the brain that largely functions
to buffer against many of the effects of stress. Further, dynamic changes in
this system contribute to different aspects of the stress response.
Unfortunately, the study found that eCB signaling does not significantly increase following
low-intensity walking. But, we have to remember that physical activity can make
us and our pets sleepy. Period.
Other ideas may be a game of fetch or a visit to the dog
park. Don’t forget to take water for you and your dog.
Thundershirts – or even a doggy sweater or T-shirt – work
for some dogs. We definitely think they are worth checking out since they are
non-invasive. However, remember that your dog is wearing clothing during a
usually very hot day in most parts of the country. Make sure your house is cool
enough so your dog is not panting even before the fireworks and provide plenty of
Some people think kennel crates are cruel because they
confine the dog. However, many dogs see them as their personal space within their
homes. You want to make sure you get the right kind. Some dogs do not do well
in wire kennel crates, but are great in the more solid sided plastic ones. If
you have wire, you can toss a blanket over the top, making sure the dog still
gets enough air. It should be a cozy environment and not too big or too small.
A dog should be able to stand up, turn around and stretch.
Spread lavender sachets, aroma spray, or the essential oil
around your house that is out of your pet’s reach. You also can put a dab of
the oil on the nose and behind each ear.
Turkey and Fish
Turkey is rich in tryptophan, an essential amino acid that
acts as a natural sedative. So, you may want to start turkey a week or two
before the Fourth of July to transition them correctly. Note that fish like cod
is also high in tryptophan. However, if your dog or cat has a food sensitivity
or intolerance to turkey or fish, these foods are not an option. (Sorry!)
Have your dog or cat initiate contact with you first. But,
don’t avoid their requests if you are busy during stressful times like firework
displays. Studies suggest that dogs prefer to be petted on their chests and behind
their ears. This is true, but you know your dog best.
Supplements & Treats
You can definitely try these, but please research first.
Talk to your locally owned and operated pet food store, visit forums and
chatrooms online, and get tips from your friends. Again, all of these people
may swear by a product that works for their dogs, but may not work for yours.
If your dog is prone to seizures, please avoid products that
contain rosemary and oregano. Both are considered neurotoxins and commonly
found in dog foods and treats as a natural preservative. Fennel and sage should
also be avoided.
Additionally, do not go beyond the recommended dosage.
If everything else has not worked in the past, talk to your
veterinarian about possible prescriptions. This should literally be your last
Raichlen, David A., et al. “Wired to Run: Exercise-Induced
Endocannabinoid Signaling in Humans and Cursorial Mammals with Implications for
the ‘Runner’s High’.” Journal of
Experimental Biology, vol. 215, 2012, pp. 1331–1336.,
Morena, Maria, et al. “Neurobiological
Interactions Between Stress and the Endocannabinoid System.” Neuropsychopharmacology, vol. 41, no. 1,
Jan. 2016, pp. 80–102., doi:10.1038/npp.2015.166. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4677118/