For the first 8 or so years of his life, my senior dog, Otto, was not bothered by fireworks. Honestly, he couldn’t care less, even though our town is the only one in our county that allows people to set off their own fireworks in the city limits. Every night for a week before Independence Day, people all over town are lighting firecrackers and fireworks – and on the big day itself, it seriously sounds like a war is going on. Every big parking lot in town gets PACKED with people who come here from all over the county to play with their fireworks, and watch those being set off by other people. Otto used to sleep through it all.
But around age 9 or 10, Otto started forming a different opinion about all the sounds that fireworks made, from the crackling and sizzling sounds to the pops and booms, and his fear has gotten worse every year. We’ve gone from simple steps like closing the house up tight, turning on fans, putting on loud TV shows, and dosing him with a calming cannabis product for dogs, to making darn sure that I have prescriptions for both Trazodone and Sileo to give him.
Trazodone is a serotonin 2A antagonist and reuptake inhibitor that has been used in human medicine as a prescription therapy for depression, aggression, sleeplessness, and anxiety since the early 1980s. In 2008, a study reported that Trazodone could be used successfully in dogs with good therapeutic benefit and minimal adverse effects. Since then, it has gotten increasingly popular as a prescribed drug to reduce anxiety and increase calm behavior in dogs who are recovering from surgery or injuries. It works particularly well in many dogs in combination with Sileo.
Sileo (dexmedetomidine oromucosal gel) was approved by the FDA in 2016 for specific use as a treatment for noise aversion. It helps calm dogs without any sedating effects, so they can continue to be fully functional.
Many veterinarians still prescribe the tranquilizer Acepromazine for dogs who panic during fireworks displays. Unfortunately, “Ace” (as it is commonly called) works in a very different way than both Trazodone and Sileo. Acepromazine is often referred to as a “chemical straitjacket” because it typically immobilizes the dog but they are still fully aware of everything going on around them, and may, in fact, be terrified but unable to show this. How do we know this? Because some dogs who have been given Acepromazine become more and more sensitized to the sounds each time they have been “Aced” for fireworks.
Last year, Trazodone and Sileo worked great
We moved a few years ago out of town into a more rural area where fireworks are strictly forbidden by law. We can no longer hear any crackling sounds of small fireworks, but there are definitely still idiots within a half mile or so who set off big booming things that sound like cannon fire. Trazodone helps Otto calm down and stop shaking and panting after he hears one of these booms, and helps him go to sleep. But the year before last, even with the Trazodone and everything else we did to try to keep the noise of the peak July 4th fireworks from reaching his ears, he kept us up almost all night, whining, panting, and shaking. He wanted to get in bed with me (which he never does normally) but he wouldn’t stay for more than a minute. His responses were slowed by the Trazodone, but not eliminated.
So last year, at the beginning of June, I called my veterinarian and asked if I could get a prescription for Sileo, which I had heard great things about. Long story short, even starting a month early, it took three weeks to get the drug. Because my vet doesn’t carry it, I had to mail a paper prescription to an online pharmacy, and their stock was backordered…. I finally received the medication three weeks after I saw the vet!
It made all the difference in the world. On the night of the 4th, I gave Otto one tablet of the Trazodone around 7 p.m.; it seems to take about an hour to start having a visible effect on Otto, making him sleepy. It’s not really dark until about 9 p.m., but the directions for the Sileo say to give an initial dose about 30 to 60 minutes before the concerning noises begin. I gave Otto a dose at about 8 p.m., and by the time all the big firework noises began, the meds had definitely kicked in. He might raise his head and look a little wide-eyed at the loudest booms, but would immediately put his head down and close his eyes again afterward.
A little after 10:00 p.m., he started getting up and pacing a bit when he heard a big boom. You can give additional doses of the Sileo in as little as two to three hours after the first dose. I gave Otto one more dose at 10:30 p.m., and by 11, he was out for the rest of the night, thank goodness! So you can believe me that I started early again this year, getting another prescription for Trazodone and Sileo.
There are many other over-the-counter products that help dogs with the noise of fireworks: ThunderShirts or other products that tightly wrap the dog’s body, which seems to have a calming effect on them; Adaptil, a synthetic pheromone product that seems to have an anxiety-reducing effect on some dogs; and a wide variety of supplements that are supposed to help calm dogs. These products can readily be tested on dogs who have phobias to more common noises or events such as thunderstorms, but when it’s critical to have reliable help on the BIG night, for my dog, I want the proven efficacy of the big prescription drugs.
How about you? If you have a fireworks-phobic dog, are you ready with tools to help him or her cope? What do you use?