Here's Why Fireworks Scare Your Dog (and the New Drug That Might Help)

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If your pup dives under the bed when the fireworks start on July 4th, it’s not because he’s unpatriotic: Noise aversion can be a real problem in dogs, says San Diego-based veterinarian Jessica Vogelsang. A new FDA-approved drug called Sileo claims to be the answer to keeping your pup calm. But how effective is it?

First of all, it’s pretty normal for dogs to turn into scaredy cats when they hear any loud noise, including thunder, a vacuum, or even an ambulance siren. But it's not only because their hearing is more sensitive than ours, explains Vogelsang: “Dogs are creatures of routine. They know what a doorbell is and what it means. But thunder and fireworks can be really frightening.” 

That may explain why July 5th is (sadly) the busiest day of the year at animal shelters across the country, according to the American Humane Society. Pets spooked by the celebrations the night before often take off running, and get lost, or worse, hit by a car. “Just like when a person has an anxiety attack, the dogs may not be thinking clearly, and they’re just reacting," says Vogelsang. "Dogs will run to get away until they’re exhausted."

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There's a also a spike in vet visits after the holiday, says Vogelsang. For example, a highly anxious dog that's placed in a crate during the fireworks may chomp really hard on the bars, breaking some of his teeth. Owners are also at risk for injuries when they try to control a frantic dog.

A possible solution? This new prescription drug, Sileo. The company says that it works by blocking norepinephrine in the brain (a chemical involved in fear) to dull the pooch’s anxiety response. Owners can give Sileo to their dogs preemptively, 30 to 60 minutes before a fireworks display; or as a quick treatment if their dog becomes frightened.

One perk, says the manufacturer, is that it’s not sedating. The previous go-to drug tranquilizes the dog. But the downside is that it doesn’t help reduce anxiety, says Vogelsang. “It’s like being strapped to a crashing plane, but you can’t move. The dog is stressed out but can’t get away."

She says vets are hopeful Sileo will be a better option for dogs in good health. (Dogs with cardiovascular disease or a history of stroke should not take it.) "The jury is still out because the drug is so new, but early results are promising," she adds.

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So how do you know if your dog needs the Rx? If he gets nervous about loud noises but isn’t destructive, then you can try behavioral modifications first, like having him wear a Thundershirt, playing calming music, or distracting him from the fact that fireworks are going off, says Vogelsang.

But if your dog gets so anxious he is a risk to himself or you, talk to your vet about medication options. She can tell you what’s right for your pet.

The Humane Society also has these tips for making the Fourth a happy holiday for your four-legged friend: Don’t bring him to see the fireworks. He’ll be happier at home—ideally if someone can stay there with him. And just in case he manages to get out, make sure he's wearing his collar with tags that have your contact info.  

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