Summer is filled with celebrations, outdoor cookouts, and extra time with your two-legged and four-legged family members. Many enjoy the majestic colors of Independence Day fireworks as well as the displays that take place during the weeks leading up to July Fourth. Many pet owners want to include their pets in the summer festivities. Unfortunately, Independence Day is the busiest day for animal shelters because of the large numbers of pets who go missing since they have a noise aversion to fireworks and respond with fear. Our Animal Emergency Care team wants to ensure your pets are safe during summer celebrations, and we discuss fireworks trauma, signs, treatment, and prevention.
What is fireworks trauma in pets?
Dogs can hear more than twice as many frequencies and can hear sounds four times further away compared within humans. That the booming sounds of fireworks elicit a fear or anxiety response in pets is no surprise. Like people, a pet’s genetic makeup and their life experiences contribute to their response to certain noises and the way they deal with fear and anxiety. For example, pets with a history of abuse or neglect are likely more easily spooked. Noise aversion typically worsens over time and pets who do not receive treatment will become increasingly stressed rather than learning to ignore non-threatening sounds like fireworks or thunderstorms. Dogs are most at risk for noise aversion reactions although cats may also respond to specific noises with anxiety. Noise aversion is defined as an anxious or fearful response to a specific noise and fireworks are one of the most common triggers. Pets with noise aversions may respond by hiding and many pets may become confused about the direction of the sounds and react by looking for an escape route. Their fight-or-flight response puts them at risk for becoming lost or being injured when they jump through windows or run into the street in front of moving cars.
Fireworks trauma signs in pets
Fireworks trauma signs are variable and may mimic signs of other underlying medical problems. Traumatic injuries such as broken bones after being hit by a car or soft tissue wounds from jumping through a closed window may also occur. Fireworks anxiety signs may include:
- Inappropriate urination or defecation
- Holding their tail between the legs
- Increased water consumption
- Pawing or climbing on people
- Hiding behind furniture or in a closet
- Unpredictable, sudden, or destructive behaviors such as escaping or jumping through glass windows or doors
Fireworks trauma diagnosis and treatment in pets
Bring your pet for immediate veterinary care if they are injured as a result of their fireworks noise aversion. Pets who show anxiety signs should also receive a veterinary examination since signs may mimic other underlying medical problems. Your veterinarian may recommend a complete blood count and a serum biochemistry test to check for overall organ health. Pets who have a traumatic injury may require an X-ray to look for broken bones or other injuries as well as treatments to address any pain or shock.
Once underlying medical problems have been ruled out your veterinarian will discuss methods to prevent firework anxiety or other noise aversion problems. Treatments may include:
- Pheromone sprays such as Adaptil or Feliway to promote a sense of well-being
- Calming supplements or diets
- Short-term sedatives
- Medications to increase their serotonin levels—although similar to human prescription medications, never give your pet any medication unless prescribed by your veterinarian
- Referral to a veterinary behaviorist or a training program that includes desensitization and counterconditioning
- Anxiety vest or thundershirt which provides gentle pressure around your pet’s torso to help decrease stress
Financial options for pets undergoing fireworks trauma treatment
Pets who are injured as a response to their fireworks anxiety may require an extended hospital stay, especially if they are hit by a car or suffer other traumatic injuries. Pets who have a noise aversion may require several veterinary checkups to adjust medications or treatment protocols. Therefore treating a noise averse pet can lead to a large veterinary bill, but a pet health insurance plan like Trupanion will ensure funds are available for such emergency treatments and long-term care. Trupanion can pay your veterinary clinic directly which eliminates the need to submit paperwork and wait for reimbursements. Other financial options available to cover treatment costs include Care Credit, Scratch Pay, pet health savings accounts, and short-term loans.
Firework trauma prevention in pets
Discuss options with your veterinarian in the months or weeks before Independence Day if your pet has a noise aversion history. Ensure that your pet’s microchip is functioning and the registration has up-to-date contact information should your pet go missing. Other prevention tips include:
- Schedule your pet’s meal and bathroom breaks so they are not during peak fireworks times.
- Don’t bring an anxious pet to a fireworks celebration.
- Always have your pet on a leash, including in your fenced-in backyard, if bathroom breaks are needed after dark.
- Designate a quiet safe space such as a crate or back of a closet as your pet’s retreat during fireworks displays.
- Provide your pet their favorite toy and treats during the fireworks to encourage a positive association with the noise.
Diagnosing and treating noise aversion in pets requires patience and time to desensitize them and address their anxiety. Bring your pet to your family veterinarian to discuss options for treating their noise aversion. Immediately bring your pet to Animal Emergency Care if they are injured as a result of their anxiety, if it is after hours, or call your family veterinarian. #AECprevents