Preparing Your Fireworks-Phobic Dog for July 4th

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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.

Otto under my desk panting, wild eyed.

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:

https://www.preventivevet.com/dogs/get-your-dog-ready-for-4th-of-july

https://www.preventivevet.com/dogs/why-you-shouldnt-use-acepromazine-for-cats-and-dogs

18 COMMENTS

  1. Sileo works wonders for our 13 year old dog. In the last few years he’s become like your dog with thunderstorms and fireworks. The REAL sounds. He’s fine with recordings of the same sounds as I’ve tried desensitizing him.

    The most important part is to figure out when to dose him, which is somewhat difficult when it comes to storms. He needs to be dosed about 30 minutes before to get the best benefit.

  2. Tried Sileo and it worked if I could get it into my dog, Scooter before he was already under the bed. He seems to be able to forecast the storm by dropping air pressure (?). I’m too old and fat to get under the bed to syringe it into him. As the news media has been reporting, despite cancellation of municipal fireworks displays, there seems to be an uptick in individuals setting off fireworks and even though we live outside a medium-size city, have heard fireworks the last two weekends. I thought this would be a quieter year.

  3. I haven’t tried Sileo yet, I have heard of it but not much for details. I have a dog with generalized noise anxiety – meaning even the engine noise of a couple of motorcycles driving by the house sends her running for her safe spot under my desk in my office. Even something as seemingly innocuous as traffic noise would having her panting and freaking out for an hour. We utilized a Behavioral Veterinarian and fist tried all training and all sorts of non narcotic alternatives but none of those made a different. Ultimately we started her on meds. She takes a daily dose of fluoxetine (prozac) and when we know the fireworks will be bad (we live in New Hampshire where they are legal) we add Alprazolam (Xanax). I know it seems like a lot of meds but it has made a huge difference and we consult with our vet regularly on her status. Still not foolproof, and sometimes tricky to add in the Xanax when unexpected storms or pop up Firework shows start happening, but it is way better than before. The Xanax actually makes her hungry (we like to joke that she gets the munchies) and that is okay because she has always been a picky eater and could use the addition of a pound or two.

  4. I tried Sileo last year. Very expensive and did not work for my 22# mini Aussie. Cost $60 and only a small amount was needed for my size dog. Since unused could only be kept for 2 weeks, it cost $60 for a onetime use. And, it seemed to have no effect. 😟

  5. Haven’t tried medication on my 7-year-old cockapoo. We do the thundershirt, cuddle in bed with the TV and air conditioner on. This year we are going out-of-town where she won’t be able to hear the fireworks (we’ve done that in the past). A ban on fireworks will start next year in this area, but people are fireworks crazy and can buy all they want on the Indian Reservations so I don’t expect the ban to have much effect. Maybe next year I’ll make an appointment with the vet in May. We couldn’t even get our other dog into the vet’s for his Cytopoint shot until after the 4th.

  6. Did SIleo work? I also have an older dog now adverse to loud noises. All loud noises. I popped my eyeglass case and she ran. Anyone know where to get earmuffs for dogs? I have trazodone 1/2 of 50 mg gabapentin 1 pill When needed
    I have Adaptil spray for her pillow, I have CBD chicken flavored treats for calming, I have a calming wax for the paws,
    Nothing works well. I have tried so much. Next he said he may give her Xanax like he gave my dauchie for the same reason. I also have Rescue Remedy that did work on my dauchie but not her. I have lavender essential oils which is calming. I give up. The last T storm, I held her close, talked to her the whole time and then she laid down between me and her big bro Jack and shook the entire couch. Oh and she won’t eat the CBD treats, I have to mash them up in her dinner. She is one outstanding Bichon Poo that I rescued from being abused and abandoned.

    • Yes! They make a tubular stretchy kind of snood that will slip over the dogs head and hold their early close to their head. It’s called The Happy Hoodie and Chewy has it. It’s not perfect as I’m sure they can still hear but the sound is muffled. You might be able to couple this with more padding over the ears to help muffle more.

      There is also the Thundershirt but that doesn’t work on all dogs. There are several different models and sizes.

      There is also something more substantial and expensive product called Mutt Muffs I saw at sportys.com. I can’t speak to if they are effective or not. They are more for ear protection if your dog is exposed to heavy machinery sounds like rides in airplanes or something. Reviews are mixed on fit and effectiveness.

      If the CBD you’re using is just hemp oil, it isn’t going to do much good. When my Ramses needed some pain meds I went to MedMen and got actual cannabis oil for him with Thc. There is a dog formula that they had. I spoke with a sales person and he knew which one would work for his symptoms. They were very knowledgeable. I had to gradually increase it until I found the right dosage that would help him feel better but not make him loopy. (He had cancer.)

  7. I’ve been through this prescription thing and decided after all of the hassle (and carelessly incorrect shipments) that if my Vet doesn’t have it and Costco doesn’t have it and I can’t get it any other place then a different prescription will have to be found. I was lucky with Ramses that CostCo had what he needed. I did have to go to CVS for one prescription. My vet also does not work with online companies. Even sending them the Rx they shorted me pills. Thankfully Diana pawPrints is young and healthy and it will be many years before she will need meds.

    I did buy her a Thundershirt when she was a puppy but turns out she was not upset by the fireworks. She just wanted to snuggle in the bed with me. Lucky for me both her and my parents’ new puppy, Dolly, don’t care about fireworks. Ramses never did. But it is good to know that this may change as they get older.

    My sister lost her dog to fireworks. The dog was so terrified she jumped a six foot fence and ran down a road and was hit by a car. I have never fully forgiven my sister for his callous treatment. She knew her dog was terrified of fireworks but instead of keeping her in the house she let her out into the back yard.

    No dog should have to live in fear of fireworks. We have so many ways to help them through the night.

  8. We have used Pets Prefer with good results. It takes the edge off and has helped many of our dogs over the years. But then again, none of mine have reacted as severely as Otto did. And in fact as a couple of our dogs got older, the noise bothered them less. I guess they were getting deafer!

  9. I just spoke with my Mom last night. We were reminiscing about our past dogs and comparing them with our current dogs. I’ve never had a dog that feared fireworks or lightening. Our current dogs don’t. But her last dog, Candy didn’t like fireworks and was afraid of lightening. My Mom reminded me of a trick she used. She used to let Candy sleep in the car in the garage with all of the windows up. Cars are pretty well insulated for sound. Not perfect, but it does reduce the noise. Not sure how it does with the barometric pressure. But I think it helped Candy a lot. I imagine if I had known about the Happy Hoodie at the time, using that and sleeping in the car would have been all she needed.

  10. What is your opinion of Sileo after using it? Based on your article I got the Sileo from my vet. We have had strong thunderstorms which make Hank crazy, barking, pacing, drooling. So sad to watch. I have used CBD oil but it is not very effective. I did try the Sileo and was impressed how quickly it worked. Hank calmed down very quickly without any noticeable side effects. As with any new treatment, I am still a little concerned about the use of this sedative and what if any long term effects. Would appreciate your thoughts. I would like to continue Sileo and my vet says it is safe. Always cautious with what I give my pups but like you, I was desperate to find a solution to loud noises.

  11. Dog Owners, I’m appalled by how many of you CHOOSE to medicate your dog rather than guiding your dog through his Firework Fears!! Your suppose to be his caretaker, leader. All your doing is being selfish and thinking about your own peace. Shame on ALL OF YOU!!

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