The July 4 holiday is almost upon us – a source of distress for many dogs, with its days and days of popping and cracking sounds of firecrackers and fireworks, followed by one very long day and night of firecrackers, fireworks, and BOOMING fireworks. It’s not actually something I have personally worried about – until recently! I’ve never before had a dog who was particularly concerned about the sounds of fireworks or guns or thunder, but I do now.
Otto is getting more anxious as he ages
Nope, I don’t have a new dog. I have an old dog, Otto, and his anxiety about these sounds has gone up exponentially in the past few years. Last year’s Independence Day was the first time that he got upset enough at the sound of fireworks to concern me. Prior to last year, he didn’t seem to notice thunder and would merely lift an eyebrow at the sound of a gunshot. Fireworks have made him pant and tremble for the past few years, but he would recover within 10 or 15 minutes after the sounds stopped, like, “Whew! Glad THAT’S over!”
But last year, in the days leading up to July 4, he came running to me, shaking and panting, every time he heard a firecracker go “Bang!” – and he’d stay in that clingy, panicky state for hours. And on the night of the 4th, we spent a fairly miserable night with all the windows closed, all the fans in the house on high, and the sound on the TV turned up VERY high, trying to drown out the sounds: the far-away booms of the town fireworks, the much closer and smaller fireworks show put on by a local casino (less than a quarter mile away as the crow flies), and the absolutely illegal and dangerous crap being set off in the driveways and yards of neighbors all around us (we live in a rural area where the fire danger is VERY high). I ended up sleeping (or trying to sleep) on the couch with Otto, trying to comfort him well into the wee hours of the morning as he jumped off the couch with every occasional “bang!” and trembled and panted for 10 or more minutes after each episode.
It’s not too late to get help for your dog (or, wait, it might be)
So, this year, I vowed, I was going to act early to see a veterinarian and get a prescription for something to help him get through the 4th without trauma.
I called my vet’s office on June 2 to schedule an appointment. They didn’t have an opening until June 10 – no worries. That should be fine.
The trouble started when I discussed with my vet – over the phone, from the vet’s parking lot, after her examination of Otto, as per post-Covid-19 standard practice – what sort of medication I wanted to get for Otto. I have heard from any number of dog-trainer friends and dog-owner friends that the newish drug, Sileo, works wonders for their thunder-phobic or fireworks-averse dogs, and so that was the medication I was hoping to get for Otto. But my vet told me that it is her practice to prescribe a combination of Acepromazine and Trazodone for dogs who freak out at fireworks.
For years and years, “Ace” was the go-to drug prescribed by many (most?) veterinarians for dogs with severe anxiety, including dogs with a history of panicking in the face of fireworks. But in more recent years, veterinary behavior experts have learned and taught that dogs who are dosed with Ace may actually experience a greater sensitivity to the sounds of fireworks – but they are unable to move or react. Using the drug in combination with another drug sounds more effective, but also introduces more possible adverse side effects into the equation.
My vet mentioned that she’s familiar with the active ingredient in Sileo – dexmedetomidine – and uses it in her practice as a pre-anesthetic. But she hasn’t used the drug in the oral form used in Sileo; it’s a gel that is applied to the dog’s gums. She mentioned that she didn’t see anything wrong with prescribing it for Otto, but that her practice doesn’t carry it, so she’d have to give me a paper prescription that I could have filled elsewhere.
Filling prescriptions online can be tricky
Here’s where things started to get tricky. I immediately took that paper prescription to the pharmacy at Costco, which is literally next door to my vet’s practice. The pharmacist looked through three supplier catalogues, but handed the prescription back to me, shaking his head. “None of our suppliers carry it, sorry.”
I got home and called a friend who has reported using Sileo for her thunder- and fireworks-phobic dog. She said, “For goodness sakes! I have gotten it from my vet, but I generally get it for a lower price from 1-800-PetMeds.com. I also have friends who have gotten it from Chewy.com,” she told me.
I already have a Chewy.com account, so I pulled up that website and started an online order. With online pharmacies, you can either mail your veterinarian’s paper prescription to the pharmacy, or click a box indicating that you’d like the pharmacy to call your veterinarian to confirm the prescription, to speed up the process. I clicked that box. It was June 10, already. Let’s get this ball rolling!
A few days later, I received an email from Chewy.com. I was fully expecting a shipping confirmation, but what I received was, “We haven’t been able to reach your veterinarian; please call us.” Given that my veterinarian is a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week practice, I thought that was unlikely. I called, and a representative told me, “Sorry, that was a stock message; it doesn’t really fit this situation, but I’m glad you called. Your veterinarian’s office told us that they don’t work with online pharmacies and won’t confirm the prescription; you will have to mail us the paper copy.” Ack! Now * I * was feeling a little panicky, like I might run out of time before the medication arrives!
I mailed the prescription off that day. About five days later, I received another email from Chewy.com, indicating that they received the prescription and will be sending Otto’s medication to me soon. It arrived on June 23.
There are drug-free ways to help your dog
Long story, short: If your dog could benefit from pharmaceutical intervention to get through the July 4 holiday without having a nervous breakdown, act immediately to get veterinary help.
Also, here are some links with terrific ideas for other interventions that may be helpful: