Ask A Vet: Helping Your Dog Cope with a Phobia of Fireworks


Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on Dr. Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB is a board certified veterinary behaviorist who counsels guardians whose pets’ issues are beyond the scope of training. Think of her as a pet shrink…at your service. Ask your own questions in the comments!

Fourth of July is coming up quickly. Here some steps to help you prepare your dog with fear of fireworks:
1. Leave town with your dog–in most mountain areas there are no fireworks allowed due to risk of fires .

2. Make sure your dog wears a tag and is microchipped–many dogs get loose and run away on 4th of July. Your dog's up to date tag and microchip info is his safe ticket home.

3. If you can't leave, stay home with your dog and find the most comfortable spot for him, preferably with no window such as a bathroom, larger walk in closet.

4. Leave lights and music on. It will diffuse the bangs and pops of the fireworks.

5. Use Adaptil collar or plug in (can be used a few days in advance). Adaptil is a pheromone that helps your dog relax.

6. If you know your dog really freaks out, see your veterinarian and ask for meds to keep him calm. Anxitane (Virbac) and other OTC anxiolytics can be given orally.
If your dog doesn't already loves food dispensing toys, start feeding your dog from food dispensing toys such as stuffed and frozen Kongs or kibble tumblers such as the Kibble Nibble. Then, during the fireworks, place your dog with an extra yummy treat into his safe-haven room. 

It helps if your dog is engaged in a series of tricks and rewards, or play-type behaviors.
If you have tried all of the above the past years with no success, your dog might need some medication to help him celebrate Independence Day.
First you need to plan ahead and make an appointment to take him to your vet, so your vet can prescribe what we call an event drug. These medications should have a anxiolytic AND potentially sedative effect. Sedation alone should not be used, as it can make your dog sleepy and not able to react at the same time he is still panicked. It is important that such a medication is combined with a medication that decreases fear. Talk to your veterinarian about this. Happy Fourth to all of you!

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