July Fourth has always been a joyous occasion. During your youth, Independence Day included a family cookout, followed by road closures to allow a few hundred families to put down picnic blankets and camping chairs near a bridge in town, watching the fireworks that were set off from that bridge, and the kids enjoying their sparklers.
Now you are grown and have moved away from home, but you still get lonely and nostalgic around July Fourth. So this year, early in June, you go to the local animal shelter and adopt your first dog, a chocolate Lab named Louee. Now you feel happier, and less lonely, with a furry pal at your side.
On July Fourth, you venture out to the local fireworks display, which is beautiful, colorful, and loud, the way you always liked it. You wish you had brought Louee along to keep you company.
Noise phobia in dogs
When you arrive home a few hours later, a police patrol vehicle is in front of your apartment complex, your neighbors’ apartment lights are on, and a police officer is sticking a note on your door.
He tells you that Louee has been howling and banging around in your apartment all evening, and neighbors complained. You scramble with your keys to get inside, worried something is wrong with Louee.
Your apartment is trashed. Chairs and the trashcan are knocked over, and your couch cushions are torn to shreds. Your bathroom is damaged, too, where Louee tried to dig through the wall—but Louee is nowhere to be found. Then you see your bedroom window, where Louee had obviously broken through the screen and escaped.
“Why,” you think out loud.
“Actually, this is quite common,” the officer says. “My wife is a veterinarian, and she says this is the busiest day of the year for animal shelters, because dogs with noise aversion, particularly to fireworks, panic, run off, and get lost every July Fourth.”
Noise aversion, you later learn is a fear of loud noises, with fireworks the most common trigger, followed by thunderstorms. About one in three dogs suffers with noise aversion, which can manifest itself through hiding, destructive behavior, vocalization, shaking, and elimination in the home. You are devastated, having no idea that Louee would be so afraid and react that way.
The next day, as you are preparing to visit the local shelter, your veterinarian calls to tell you that Louee has been found and that, thanks to his microchip, he was being brought to Livingston Veterinary Hospital. “I’m on my way,” you say, extremely relieved.
Louee is happy to see you, but he’s tired, scratched all over, and desperately needs a bath.
“Louee is lucky to be alive,” your veterinarian tells you, “because he ran in front of his rescuers’ car, as the fireworks display was ending.”
Noise aversion can have devastating consequences, he says, explaining that there are interventions and medications that will help keep Louie calmer before the next fireworks display. You listen carefully as he explains your options.
- Creating a safe haven for your pet — Pets with noise phobias look for a refuge, like under a bed, or in a dark closet, so create a safe sanctuary by fitting out a corner in a quiet, dark interior room, preferably without windows, with a comfortable bed, blankets, and favorite toys.
- Distract your pet with plenty of treats — For example, give your pet a Kong filled with his favorite canned food, peanut butter, or yogurt, that will keep them busy for a long time. Also, turn on the television, play soft music, or use a white noise machine to block the scary noises and calm your pet.
- Dress your pet in a Thundershirt — The gentle, constant pressure of a Thundershirt can alleviate anxiety and calm your pet. Putting the shirt on before the fireworks start is best.
- Desensitize your pet — Try playing fireworks sounds, first softly, and then more loudly each time your pet seems comfortable with the noise. Give them high value treats, so they positively associate them with the sounds.
- Consult with your veterinarian — Your veterinary team can examine your pet, and give you advice on calming supplements or foods, or prescribe medication that will help prevent them from panicking.
Now you feel ready for the next holiday and fireworks display. You take Louee home, thinking that you will experiment with some of your veterinarian’s recommendations, and devise a plan to keep your pet more calm during loud celebrations. As you sit together in your apartment that evening, you gently pet Louee, who nods off, his head resting in your lap. “Don’t worry, Louee, I’ll keep you safe from now on.”
This July Fourth, keep a close eye on your pet. Do they shake, hide, destroy something, eliminate, or vocalize at loud noises? If they do, they likely suffer from noise aversion. If you see any fear behaviors, bring your pet to Livingston Veterinary Hospital, or give us a call, and we will help you ensure your pet is calm during the next noisy celebration.