DC-area veterinarian’s tips for helping dogs frightened by the sound of fireworks

Theo the dog from Clarksburg, Maryland, who is not a fan of fireworks, wears noise canceling headphones made for dogs. (Courtesy Abishek Roy and Sara Hummel)
Theo is not a fan of fireworks, so he wears noise canceling headphones made for dogs. There are many other alternatives for dogs that will get spooked during July Fourth fireworks displays, such as medication. (Courtesy Abishek Roy and Sara Hummel)
A dog from Clarksburg, Maryland, who is not a fan of fireworks, wears noise canceling headphones made for dogs. These will keep Theo calm during July Fourth fireworks. (Courtesy Abishek Roy and Sara Hummel)

While many humans will enjoy them on the Fourth of July, fireworks can be stressful for many dogs if they are within earshot of the booms.

Dr. Mark Freeman, a veterinarian and associate clinical professor at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, told WTOP the loud pop of fireworks can trigger a fear response.

“So, anything that is sudden, loud, explosive, can be really, really frightening for them, because animals have sort of built in mechanisms for responding with things like that,” Freeman said.

He said the noises can put dogs into a fight or flight mode, the latter of which is typically seen. Many times, the spooked pet will run and find a safe place in your home, such as under a bed, but that’s not always the case.

“Dogs that have jumped through windows, jumped off balconies, chewed their way through doors and screens, dug holes through the drywall trying to get out and get away,” he said.

When pets have a bad reaction to fireworks, he said owners should try to keep them inside and try to drown out the sound.

“Even doing something as simple as turning on a TV or a radio and turning the volume up fairly loud to cover the sounds of the fireworks so that they’re not as obvious or noticeable can be helpful,” Freeman said.

There are even noise canceling headphones made especially for dogs, if your animal will tolerate them.

Freeman said if your veterinarian is familiar with your dog’s reactions to fireworks, there are also medicines that may help get them through Independence Day.

“We have medications that are anti-anxiety medications, we have medications that are true tranquilizers or sedatives and so there are a number of drugs that can be really helpful in minimizing this fear response and helping those animals get through this fireworks period without the amount of fear and distress that we see otherwise,” Freeman said.

Ultimately, Freeman said you should start trying to desensitize your animal to the sounds of fireworks. One way to do that is to play a recording of fireworks, increasing the sound each time it appears they are ignoring the noises.

“You can work your way up to pretty much full volume so that you’ve got the really loud noises and, by that point, they should have become adapted to those loud noises and maybe won’t respond,” Freeman said.

Also, the most important thing for pet owners who have animals that may become a flight risk during a firework show is to make sure your pet has a collar on with your correct contact information and that their microchip information is up to date. Pets without microchips should get them, according to Freeman.

“It is not uncommon for dogs to absolutely break out of the house and run away because of the fireworks noises. So, having a way to identify them and recover them is really strongly recommended,” Freeman said.

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Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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