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two dogs scared of fireworks

Why are Dogs Scared of Fireworks?

Fireworks are a common source of excitement and celebration for humans, but for many dogs, they can be a source of fear and anxiety. Dogs’ sensitivity to loud noises, such as fireworks, stems from their acute hearing ability and evolutionary traits. In this article, we will explore why dogs are scared of fireworks and loud noises. Understanding the underlying factors contributing to this fear is crucial in helping pet owners address and mitigate their dogs’ anxiety during fireworks displays. Follow to the end for additional medicinal and supplementary solutions to calm your anxious dog. 

The Acute Hearing of Dogs:

Dogs possess a remarkable sense of hearing, surpassing that of humans. Their ears are finely tuned to detect a wide range of frequencies and decibel levels. According to a study by Heffner and Heffner (2007), dogs can detect sounds as low as 40 Hz and as high as 60,000 Hz, while humans typically hear sounds ranging from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz. This heightened auditory perception allows dogs to pick up on sounds that humans cannot perceive, making them more vulnerable to the loud booms and high-pitched whistles produced by fireworks.

Evolutionary Factors:

Dogs are descendants of wolves, and their ancestors relied on acute hearing to detect potential threats in the wild. The instinctive response to loud noises, such as fireworks, can be traced back to their survival instincts. Wolves would react to sudden loud sounds as potential signs of danger, preparing themselves to flee or defend themselves. This innate response has been passed down through generations, contributing to dogs’ fear and anxiety when faced with similar stimuli.

Noise Sensitivity and Noise Phobia:

Noise sensitivity refers to an exaggerated response to auditory stimuli, leading to fear or anxiety in dogs. While some dogs may exhibit mild sensitivity, others may develop a more severe condition called noise phobia. According to a study by Overall (2013), approximately 5% to 15% of dogs experience noise phobia. What is more concerning is that sensitivity to noises can generalize quickly.  For instance, a dog exposed to a beeping noise from a smoke detector can quickly generalize that sound to other beeping sounds like, appliances, mail delivery, and trucks backing up. Fireworks can resemble loud trash trucks, thunder, gunshots, or different startling sounds. 

What Does Fear of Fireworks Look Like:

When a dog is afraid of fireworks, they may display a range of behavioral signs indicating their fear and anxiety. These behaviors can vary among individuals but commonly include trembling or shaking, panting excessively, pacing, or restlessness. Attempting to hide or seek shelter, drooling, whining or barking excessively, seeking proximity to their owner, trying to escape or run away, decreased appetite, and displaying signs of house soiling are also common. Some dogs may also exhibit destructive behaviors, such as chewing furniture or scratching doors, to find an escape route or relieve their anxiety.

These panic responses occur directly from your dog’s sympathetic nervous system. This fight or flight mechanism sends a cascade of hormones like adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol throughout your dog’s body.  These hormones affect the nervous system and increase your dog’s heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate. You should expect these hormones to remain in effect up to an hour after a scary event as well as lingering signs of fear like panting, drooling or shaking.

It’s important to note that each dog may have a unique set of behaviors, and recognizing these signs is crucial in implementing appropriate strategies to help alleviate their distress during fireworks displays. Make sure to keep your dog inside if you notice any of these behaviors.  It is an unfortunate fact that more dogs escape and go missing on the Fourth of July and New Years eve than any other days of the year.

Early Life Exposure during Socialization Period:

Exposure to loud noises during the critical socialization window, which typically occurs before puppies reach 14 weeks of age, is of utmost importance for their overall development and future behavior. This critical period serves as a prime opportunity to shape a puppy’s perception and response to various stimuli, including loud noises. Most dog owners face a problem because they adopt the majority of dogs near the end or after this window has closed.

By carefully and gradually exposing puppies to controlled and positive experiences with loud sounds, such as fireworks or thunder, during this sensitive phase, owners can help them develop resilience and a more relaxed attitude towards such stimuli later in life. The lack of exposure or negative experiences during this period may result in fear, anxiety, or phobias in response to loud noises. This is the same reason many puppies show fear to new places, people and even other dogs.  Unfortunately, most dogs are exposed to loud noises, dogs, and new environments after this period has closed.

PTSD in Dogs scared of Fireworks

The loudness of fireworks frequently acts as a trigger for panic disorder (PD) and canine post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). PD and C-PTSD encompass more than a simple fear response and can lead to various unexpected behaviors such as urination, defecation, vocalization, salivation, trembling or shaking, increased or decreased motor activity, random destruction, and escape behaviors. Dogs with a fear of fireworks, who experience repeated exposure to the noise, can worsen year after year and become more challenging to assist. The severity of the fearful behavior can increase and can even lead to cardiac symptoms including heart attack in young puppies and elderly dogs in the worst cases.

How to calm dogs during fireworks:

Create a safe space in your home:

It is essential to create a safe space to calm your anxious and fearful pets during fireworks.  Start by identifying a quiet and enclosed area in your home where your pet can retreat to. This space could be a room, a corner, or a designated area. Make it comfortable by adding their favorite bedding, toys, and familiar scents. Close windows and curtains to minimize the sights and sounds of fireworks. Additionally, consider using white noise machines, calming music, or a television to provide a soothing background noise that can help drown out the sounds of the fireworks. By creating a safe space tailored to your pet’s needs, you can provide them with a sanctuary where they can seek solace and find comfort during the stressful times of fireworks displays.
dog hiding from fireworks in a safe space.

How CBD can Help Your Scared Dog

Broad and Full Spectrum CBD for pets can be very helpful for pets who are fearful or fireworks. CBD has been shown to have a calming effect on the central nervous system as described in a 2019 study by The Permanente Journal. Another recent study highlights the effectiveness of CBD to reduce Cortisol levels in dogs stressed by car travel and separation.

Keep in mind CBD typically works best when given consistently, usually twice a day leading up to any stressful event.  This is why many people start giving their pets CBD in the week leading up to travel, fireworks, or any stressful event.  There is some variability in CBD’s effects on dogs with anxiety. It is very helpful for some and unfortunately fully effective for others.

Other Calming Supplements: 

Halscion from Gold Standard Herbs is another wonderful supplement for overly stressed, anxious dogs. This product was developed by Dr. Steve Marsden DVM for dogs who are inconsolably stressed in response to fireworks, storms, or other triggers. This product reduces adrenal activity and is helpful for restful sleep without being a sedative. Start this herb regimen at a half dose and work up to a full dose over a couple of days. You can safely combine Halscion with CBD to experience even more therapeutic effects. This herbal formula is also safe for humans.

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen that may lower cortisol levels in both humans and dogs. You can find this in your grocery store or supplements in your local pet store. The recommended dosage for dogs using ashwaganda is 200mg per/kg once per day. It is advised to start at a low dose and work up slowly to a calming dose.

Veterinary Medicine

Sileo is specifically created for noise aversion and also works to regulate your dog’s adrenal response. This medicine can be given a few hours prior to fireworks and again every 3 hours. Many vets are still unaware of this medicine but it is very effective.  Pet owners should exercise caution when administering this medicine to pets with heart issues, as it lowers blood pressure. 

Trazadone: This medicine is also effective at reducing cortisol in dogs during stressful events. This medicine can start working within an hour and last up to 8 hours. Dosage is key as not all pets respond the same. This medicine can have an opposite response for a small percentage of dogs. Please test this medicine prior to fireworks exposure to get a baseline of how your pet responds to it.

Medicines to avoid: 

Acepromazine: We suggest avoiding this commonly prescribes medication for fireworks and other stressful events. Acepromazine, a pre-surgical sedative, is designed to chemically restrain your dog’s behavior. It reduces the outward display of aggression and anxiety with the brain still aware of the stressful environment.  This essentially paralyzes your pet with their mind still in a stressful state. This may make it even worse in following years as you dog is still flooded with the emotions of the event.  

Benzodiazipines: While these are effective for some pets, many pets will have a challenging time relaxing, even increasing their anxiety after taking them. If you are considering these drugs, please test the out before exposure to fireworks and have a back up plan.  

Compression Shirts

Thundershirts and other pet clothing that simulate swaddling are useful tools to help assist is calming your dog during fireworks. The Thundershirt company claims up to 80% effectiveness at reducing anxious behavior.  This compression shirt was first used by Linda Tellington Jones to assist with her calming massage method called T-Touch . T-Touch is handy technique using specific hand postures that include circular massage up and down your pets body.

Final Notes: 

We hope that this information has provided you with a better understanding of why dogs are scared of fireworks and how to assist them. Please consult with your veterinarian if possible when adding any supplementation to your pets diet. It is not advised to mix CBD or other supplements with the pharmaceuticals mentioned above.  Please reach out to us for by phone or email for any questions. 

 

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