By Megan M. Kelley, DVM, CVA, CVSMT, FCoAC
Fourth of July is around the corner and many pet owners face this time of year with trepidation for their poor pets. Many dogs and cats are fearful of loud noises. Fireworks for animals are more like bombs going off rather than visual ways to celebrate. Many people ask how they can help their pets to be less stressed during the holiday. Here are some suggestions to consider, spanning natural to pharmaceutical options.
It is important to remember that if you are going to use natural remedies for stress, you may need to take a multimodal approach to be successful. A multimodal approach to therapy is using multiple options that all work differently to treat the same problem. A multimodal approach may not be necessary for every day anxieties, but with fireworks multiple therapies usually works best.
There are some things that can be done that don’t involve medications at all. These include ThunderShirts and pheromone diffusers. ThunderShirts are a patented article of clothing that the dog or cat wears around their torso. It applies gentle, constant pressure that can help in decreasing anxiety, like swaddling a baby or compression clothing for children with autism. Synthetic pheromone diffusers like Feliway for cats or Adaptil for dogs produce a scent that promotes a sense of well-being. The diffusers are species specific. Adaptil is a copy of the natural “dog appeasing pheromone” released by a mother dog after giving birth. Feliway is a feline facial pheromone analogue, which is a man-made version of the substance your cat deposits when they rub their cheek on the couch or your hand. This substance is used by a cat to mark their territory. ThunderShirts and pheromones are options usually used best in conjunction with other treatments if the animal gets extremely stressed or agitated with fireworks.
Other natural remedies include the use of CBD Oil or Chinese herbal supplements. CBD oil is the main active compound in hemp. CBD activates certain receptors in the body creating an anti-anxiety effect. Chinese herbal supplements, like Calm ES, has multiple herbs that together decrease anxiety and thus calms the Shen (spirit). These supplements work best when purchased from a reputable source to decrease chance of contaminants.
Western pharmaceuticals that can help and may be necessary in very stressful situations include Acepromazine, Trazodone and Soleo. These medications need to be prescribed by your veterinarian due to potential side-effects. Acepromazine is a sedative/tranquilizer that can be prescribed to quiet agitated animals, though it does little to actual relieve any anxiety or fear. Use with caution in animals with liver or kidney disease. It can cause low blood pressure and aggression in certain animals. Trazodone is a serotonin reuptake inhibitor that is used to treat anxiety in dogs. This is another medication to use with caution in animals with liver and kidney disease. It can cause sedation and rarely the opposite effect of excitation. In general, it is a safe anti-anxiety medication. Sileo is the only FDA-approved medication to treat noise aversion in dogs. It is a gel that is absorbed into oral mucosa of the dog’s mouth. The active ingredient is Dexmedetomidine and reduces specific reactions in the nervous system. It should not be used in dogs with heart disease, liver or kidney failure.
However you decide to calm your pet’s fears, make sure to prepare yourself before the big event. Talk to your veterinarian about your concerns. Try out some of the suggestions listed above in advance to see if they work for your dog or cat prior to the big fireworks show. Being prepared to treat your pet’s fear will help calm your anxiety too. That way everyone can enjoy our annual celebrations. See you at the Walla Walla Point Park!