Summer is here and so are the outdoor barbecues, picnics and celebrating our nation’s birth. We, the people, tend to like things that are flashy and go boom! Our canine, and even feline, friends aren’t as enthused as their human counterparts. In addition to causing fear and noise phobia, fireworks can be harmful to our furry companions.
Fear is a very natural and normal response. It can be life-saving in the face of a threat. However, phobias are irrational fears. Phobias can develop at any time and in any individual. No breed is predisposed to phobias. Phobias can be conditioned over a period of time or they can manifest from one single event. For example, I wasn’t afraid of bees until I was stung nine times in two weeks (three separate incidences). After the first time, I was OK. After the third, I was conditioned to fear them and developed a phobia. Now when I see a bee, I get the heebie jeebies and keep my distance! Another tricky thing about phobias is that they can spread. Eventually, a firework phobia can spread into other loud sounds. A dog that is firework phobic can eventually end up with a thunderstorm phobia.
The first step to treat a phobia is to identify it. What does fear look like in animals? Fear, at its core, is a fight or flight response. You may see freezing, shaking, pacing, drooling, panting, hiding, barking or even destroying doors and window treatments. Once identified, it would be helpful to consult your veterinarian or a behaviorist.
Isolating your pet from the noise in a basement or interior room may help. You can counter-condition your pet to the sound: in other words, you can make the scary noise a part of everyday life. Go online and find a fireworks show on YouTube, and play it at the LOWEST volume possible. If your pet shows no signs of fear, gradually (and I mean slowwwwly) turn the volume up. Then, when the real thing comes along, your pet won’t know the difference! In some cases, anti-anxiety medication is also an option.
Now, let’s focus on the physical dangers of fireworks. It’s pretty obvious that these things burn (fire is in the name, after all). Please don’t let your pet chase after sparklers or near any projectile that can shoot a shell back in his/her direction. Also, fireworks contain a lot of nasty stuff that are toxic to your pet, like heavy metals. Don’t leave any lying around for them to pick up! Don’t forget that some of these explosives cause quite a bang and can damage sensitive ears, and that the light can temporarily blind watchful eyes.
Please, be safe during your festivities this summer season!