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Red, white and nope: How to help your pets deal with summer fireworks

Dog looks out the window and watching the fireworks, appenzeller sennenhund
Vincent Scherer/Getty Images/iStockphoto
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iStockphoto
Fireworks can be tough on pets.

It's that time of the summer when people who love fireworks revel in lighting up the night sky — and people with pets sensitive to the loud booms fret over how to handle their anxious animals.

WVXU asked CARE Center Medical Director Dr. Rachel Halpin for tips on how to help pets during the Fourth of July holiday. She says one of the biggest issues is dogs getting scared and running away.

"I encourage people to be thoughtful about looking at your home, your environment, where the dog is going to be when the fireworks are going off and making sure that they're in a secure location where they couldn't potentially get away," she says.

That includes making sure your yard is securely fenced with no gaps, and that the fence is tall enough that your dog can't potentially jump over it. Otherwise, keeping your pets indoors as much as possible is ideal.

It's a good idea to have updated contact information on their collar. Halpin recommends microchipping your pet, too.

Don't let your pets play around fireworks either — that can be a dangerous combination.

"Sometimes people think it's funny (when) dogs will initially see a firework and be enamored with the visual side of it," says Halpin. "But I have seen dogs try to chase after fireworks and try to ingest them, so definitely keep dogs away from any firework type of activity."

What can you do indoors to help make your pet more comfortable?

One thing, Halpin says, is to "make sure that your pet has a safe and quiet, secure environment."

She recommends playing soothing music, such as classical, to provide a distraction. Also, give them a toy — perhaps something "with a bit of peanut butter in it so that they have something to take their mind off of the anxiety."

Of course, for some animals, the anxiety may require something more. Halpin says you should consult with your veterinarian before giving your pet any kind of medication, such as a sedative, during fireworks.

"That can be a difficult decision on when to institute a sedative versus when to just ride it out," she says. "If I have a dog that is so anxious that I'm worried that they could potentially hurt themselves or get to a point where they can't be calmed down at all, that's when I'll reach for a medication or a sedative to help provide them with another way of calming down if they're getting really really worked up."

What about CBD?

Halpin says there isn't a lot of information yet about how effective CBD is in animals. There also isn't good information "particularly in regards to what dose would be appropriate."

While she doesn't recommend giving your pet CBD, she isn't ruling it out in the future once there's more research.

"One other challenge with CBD is because it's not regulated in the sense of a lot of other medications, the products that are you get over the counter or on the internet — the amount of CBD that's in them is really variable," she says, adding "From a cost-benefit perspective, it's not something that I encourage people to spend a lot of money on, given there's really wide variability in what's in the product and how well it's going to work."

What should I not do?

Sometimes in our efforts to comfort an anxious animal, we could actually be making a situation worse. You may want to try to hug your dog, but Halpin cautions against getting in their personal space.

"They may react differently than they would in a normal setting. I would give them their space. I would avoid hugging them or getting too close — doing anything that might be perceived as being irritating or scary."

Is the noise bad for my dog?

Dogs, we know, experience sound at different frequencies than humans. As long as your dog tolerates fireworks displays and isn't exposed to the loud explosions for chronic, extended periods of time, Halpin says their hearing probably won't be affected.

"How they experience those fireworks may be very different than how we experienced them and what they hear versus what we hear. I wouldn't worry about damage per se, but be aware of the fact that it might sound very different to them than it does to us."

Does my cat even care about fireworks?

It can be hard to tell what a cat may be thinking. While some cats can be more sensitive to sound than dogs, Halpin says, in her experience, fireworks don't seem to stress cats as much as they do dogs.

She notes dogs and cats show their stress and anxiety differently.

"Dogs are oftentimes going to seek out their person or owner to tell them that they're stressed, whereas a cat's reaction is more often going to be to hide. It may be that cats are just as scared, but we don't recognize it as readily because their defense mechanism is to hide from us, making their symptoms a lot less readily apparent."

Summer reminder — help your pets stay cool

Finally, remember if you're hot, your pet is hot. Try to keep your pets out of the heat and humidity as much as you can when temperatures start to boil.

"They are much more sensitive to heat and humidity than we are as people so we have to be very careful when it gets hot and humid to not let them get too hot," she concludes. "They're at increased risk of suffering from a heat stroke."

Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Prior to joining Cincinnati Public Radio, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She enjoys snow skiing, soccer and dogs.