How to help your pets survive the Fourth

Charlie Denison

Dogs can have trouble with the loud noises during Fourth of July celebrations. Weimaraners (pictured) and other pets – if not exposed early and conditioned – may need to be sedated.
Photo by Charlie Denison

The Fourth of July may be a great day for most of us patriots, but what does the holiday look like for our dogs, who don’t understand the significance of the holiday?

This Independence Day, dogs won’t be chomping at the bit to celebrate the 241st birthday of the United States of America. Instead, they’ll be wondering why the neighborhood turned into a war zone.

Dr. Greg Carlson of Horizon Veterinary Services said he experiences a high volume of calls this time of year, as many dog owners struggle with keeping their pets calm when the fireworks begin.

Considering the festive day is fast approaching, Carlson took some time to visit with the News-Argus and share tips for the community.

First of all, Carlson said he recommends people try to work with their dogs as early as possible in hopes to condition them to the loud noises.

“The more you are able to expose your dog in the first six months, the better it will be at handling itself,” Carlson said. “For example, if you never had your kid in day care, your kid probably won’t get sick, but, as an adult, they will be more prone to sickness.”

Carlson added that dogs 2 years or younger should be “pretty viable.”

“But once you have a do in its third year or older, habits are ingrained,” he said.

Keeping this in mind, Carlson discourages people from trying to condition mature dogs to the loud noises of the holiday.

“Don’t throw fireworks at the dog,” Carlson said. “I’ve never seen a ‘gun shy’ dog broken of its habit through constant exposure.”

If a mature dog continues to struggle with the explosive celebration, Carlson has a few recommendations.

“Provide a safe space for the dog,” he said, “whether it be the kennel or a bedroom.”

If that doesn’t work and the pet continues to get anxious – or, potentially, destructive – Carlson recommends using acepromazine to sedate the dog.

According to Carlson, acepromazine calms the dog, alleviating its stress. It’s beneficial for the dog, as anxious behavior can be harmful to the dog’s health.

“The cortisol a dog releases when stressed is more destructive than the side-effects of acepromazine,” Carlson said.

Those tranquilizing their dogs are advised to use a proper dosage, which depends largely on the size of the animal.

“See how sedated the dog becomes,” Carlson said. “It takes a little experimenting as far as how much to give and how long it will last.”

Giving your dog medication to calm its nerves one day a year should not be frowned upon, Carlson said, encouraging those who feel it’s necessary to sedate to not feel any shame or guilt.

“There should be no stigma attached with tranquilizing your dog on the Fourth,” he said. “It’s reliable and safe.”

Not all dogs are sensitive to the noise and not all dogs react so anxiously or destructively. Dalmatians and Weimaraners, he said, are two dog breeds more likely to struggle on the nation’s birthday if not conditioned at a young age.


Thundershirts effective for smaller dogs

Another remedy to keep dogs calm while the firecrackers are lighting up is the Thundershirt, a calming vest for pets Carlson said he’s seen most effective for smaller dog use.

“I have several clients who swear by the Thundershirts,” he said. “The vests apply pressure on the dog, releasing endorphins that help the dog relax. It doesn’t work on every dog, but I’ve certainly seen it work.”


What about cats?

Carlson can’t say cats don’t have a problem with the Fourth of July, but he can say he has no clients who have come to him with any Fourth-related feline issues.

“I personally have never sent anyone home with any tranquilizers for a cat for Fourth of July purposes,” he said. “A cat’s number-one response is to crawl under the bed, hide and not come out until it’s safe.”



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