There are two issues involving dogs that make me a little crazy in the summer. The first is seeing a dog locked in a car without air conditioning running and perhaps only windows cracked open. The temperature inside a car, even with windows cracked is ALWAYS MUCH warmer than the outside temperature. Unfortunately, many dogs suffer heatstroke and even death from being locked in a car for a period of time.
This link provides data about the temperature differences and elapsed time: VetStreet: Preventing Heat Stress and Injury in Pets
The second issue involves fireworks.
As I sit here typing, my neighbors are firing off fireworks and my two dogs are freaking out. Fireworks are illegal where I live yet when I call the police, while the responding officers are very nice, the dispatcher gives me a hard time. In the town I used to live in, I never used to have an issue when I called the police, but in this new town, the dispatcher seems unsympathetic, even last year when there was a no burn order in the area and debris was landing in a field near my house. I am not optimistic about calling this year.
I used to work as a vet tech and also a dog trainer, so I do have some advice to offer. Not all methods work for all dogs. I’ve seen dogs that have jumped out of windows and run through plate glass windows due to anxiety from fireworks. Sadly, July 5th is known as one of the busiest days of the year at animal shelters with how many dogs run off and go missing. July 4th is my favorite holiday. I am a proud supporter of our military and the sacrifices that our brave men and women have made and continue to make to ensure our freedom. However, I partially dread the holiday because of the fireworks and my dogs. I cannot even imagine the anxiety level of dogs in war and conflict areas.
One of the first things that dog owners want to do when they spot their dog showing signs of anxiety to thunderstorms and fireworks is to ask for tranquilizers for their dog. Here’s the issue with the use of tranquilizers. While it may calm your dog, it will also impede your dog’s ability to monitor his/her core temperature and thus a dog may become very overheated to the point of injury or even death because they will not pant. Panting is the only way that a dog can release the excess heat from his/her body. At the practice that I worked at as a vet tech, we would always educate owners as to behavioral solutions and only if at last resort, go to tranquilizers and that is only after a comprehensive physical exam including complete blood panels.
You should ALWAYS consult your Veterinarian BEFORE administering any medications or herbs to your dog. There are many, many common substances and foods that humans may safely consume but are fatally toxic to dogs even in small amounts.
I am including some links to sites with advice to pet owners but here are some quick tips as well:
During thunderstorms and fireworks, you should try to act as normal as possible. While we may feel that we should coo at our dogs and cuddle them, this actually reinforces the anxious behavior and makes it worse. Try to act like nothing is amiss.
Make sure that you have a place in your home that your dog feels secure and allow access to that site.
Try to mask the noise by turning on the radio or television. They may still hear the fireworks and thunder, however, it is not as disrupting when it is in the background of other noise compared to silence and then a large, unexpected BOOM.
When you take your dog outside, even if you have a securely fenced in yard and an extremely obedient dog, walk your dog on a leash. Make sure that you have appropriate contact information and identification on your dog’s collar and that their collar and/or harness are properly fitted.
Take a picture of your dog when you are aware of an impending storm or fireworks so that you have a recent picture to use if necessary. Ideally, your dog should have a microchip AND you should have registered your information with the appropriate microchip company. Many shelters encounter pets with microchips but because the owner never registered the microchip, there is no way to find the owner.
A new product that has hit the market is what is called a “Thunder shirt.” This is meant to keep your dog calm, however, if not introduced to your dog properly, you may find it ineffective. You should put the shirt on your dog when your dog is calm and relaxed first. Do this frequently BEFORE using during a storm or fireworks. This brings a positive association with the shirt. Once you have established this positive association, you may then use the shirt during a storm or fireworks. For more information, please see this video by Cesar Millan: http://www.cesarsway.com/dogtraining/thebasics/Do-Thundershirts-Work-for-Dogs
If your dog does get lost, put out flyers and contact local veterinary offices, including emergency clinics, local law enforcement, and local animal shelters. Because of how busy July 5th is, you may find it more helpful to go to the shelters and look for your dog. Some shelters are so overwhelmed with admissions that your dog may be there but the information has not yet made it to the person fielding the phone inquiries.
While your frustration may grow with the helplessness you may feel as a dog owner watching your beloved dog freak out over fireworks, it is important to try to remain as calm as possible. Your dog will feed off of your energy. If you are nervous and edgy, he/she will be nervous and edgy.
Below are some links to web sites that you may find helpful.
Noise Anxiety and Safety
Heat Safety Tips