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What to do for a dog afraid of fireworks. Pet safety on July 4th.
Tan and white shih tzu dog afraid of fireworks and cowering under a sofa during a 4th of July celebration.

The 4th of July holiday is one of the most anticipated human celebrations of the summer. Unfortunately, dogs often react differently, primarily due to noise phobia from fireworks. Since one loud bang frightens some pets, you can take precautions to reduce anxiety in a dog afraid of fireworks.

Besides noise phobia, watch for common pet hazards during July 4th celebrations, including accidental food and fireworks poisoning and thermal injuries. As always, if you experience a pet emergency, please call your veterinarian right away or immediately bring your pet to our Castle Rock emergency veterinary hospital.

But let’s take a step back — why is your dog afraid of fireworks?

Why Is a Dog Afraid of Fireworks?

Fireworks produce a noisy, startling sound. Because it is unfamiliar, your dog may interpret the sound as a threat, activating a fight-or-flight response. It partly depends on your pet’s upbringing. If a dog was not exposed to loud noises as a puppy, or if a dog experienced a traumatic noise-related event, sudden noises can cause varying degrees of anxiety.

According to the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science, a dog’s breed also has some bearing on fear of loud noises. Classic hunting breeds, such as Great Danes and pointers, are less likely to be scared because of genetic predispositions.

Noise Anxiety in Dogs

Clearly fireworks are loud. Dogs that are noise-shy can get frightened by the loud, explosive noises made by fireworks.

Even if your dog has never experienced fireworks, you can make an educated guess regarding behavior by observing reactions to other loud noises, such as thunderstorms. If your pet hides during thunderstorms, then it’s fair to assume your dog could also be afraid of fireworks.

How to Overcome the Noise Factor

If you plan to go out to enjoy a fireworks display, the best thing to do is leave your pet home with a family member. Ideally, your pet should be familiar with the pet sitter and free from separation anxiety in order to reduce stress.

If no one can stay home with your pet, and if your home is in range of fireworks or firecracker sounds, leave your pet inside. Choose the most soundproof room or the one farthest from the noise. Keep the room dark and close the windows to reduce sounds. You may opt to keep on devices that emit white noise, such as an air conditioner, TV, or radio. You may also want to provide entertainment for your pet, such as giving food or toys, to provide distraction.

It may help to put your dog in a comforting place, like a kennel or crate located in a darkened, quiet room. Some dogs also benefit from wearing an anxiety vest which supplies calming pressure similar to swaddling an infant. Just be sure to work with your dog prior to July 4th to make sure your furry friend is comfortable wearing the vest.

You can also try giving plenty of opportunity for exercise earlier in the day to wear your dog out before the fireworks begin. Remember to feed dogs and take them out well before sunset to reduce the risk of accidents due to your pet being too scared to go outside.

Finally, as a precaution, keep identification on your dog’s collar or make sure your pet’s microchip is up-to-date in case your pet escapes your home. Smart collars are also available and can track your dog’s location from your phone. Many dogs get lost or get into an accident while running from home during July 4th celebrations.

Longer Term Considerations for a Dog Afraid of Fireworks

Fireworks don’t end after the Fourth of July. There are also New Year’s and other occasions with fireworks which can affect your dog. For a long term solution, start a noise desensitization program. You can start by playing recordings of fireworks and other loud noises. Then, slowly increase the volume and duration to demonstrate that these sounds won’t cause harm. Provide positive reinforcement by giving affection and treats, so your dog associates noisy conditions with good feelings.

Veterinarians can prescribe dogs medicine for anxiety in more severe cases. Please talk to your family veterinarian to determine what is best for your pet.

Food and Fireworks Poisoning

Noise isn’t the only thing you should watch out for during the Fourth of July.

Even if your dog isn’t scared of fireworks, it isn’t advisable to bring your dog to festivities where there are lots of people because of the possibility for your dog to get lost or stressed. Summer social shindigs often include outdoor barbeques where a majority of the food isn’t good for pets. Some of these foods include corn cobs, which can cause intestinal blockage, raisins, grapes, onions, chocolate, xylitol, and alcoholic beverages. Kabobs with skewers are also a concern. When people aren’t paying attention, dogs might find an opportunity to sneak some people treats that can make them sick.

Aside from the risk of ingesting food, our curious canines are also at risk for ingesting fireworks. Fireworks contain hazardous chemicals such as heavy metals, coloring agents, sulfur, and oxidizing agents such as potassium nitrate. They can also contain chlorates, which oxidize red blood cells. This makes the iron in the blood’s hemoglobin rust, turning it from red to brown. The rusty blood, called methemoglobinemia, does not carry oxygen, which the body needs to function. Even if the body works to get rid of the damaged red blood cells, it eventually could end in kidney failure or even death. The severity of the case depends on what type of firework was ingested and how much.

Some symptoms to watch out for if you suspect your dog has ingested fireworks:

  • Vomiting
  • Drooling
  • Painful abdomen
  • Tremors and seizures
  • Shallow breathing
  • Uncoordinated movement
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Jaundice

What to Do If Your Pet Ingests Fireworks

First and foremost, call your veterinarian right away or bring your pet into our Castle Rock emergency and specialty veterinary hospital.

Ingesting fireworks is serious. If your pet has ingested a lit firework, it can cause burns to the face, lips, nose, eyes, or the insides of the mouth. Your pet’s fur may also catch fire, which can cause serious injuries.

Quick tips for preventing your pets from food and firework poisoning:

  • Leave your pet home for large gatherings or fireworks displays whenever possible.
  • Pick up and immediately dispose of firework debris, picnic items, and people food and beverages (and remember to empty trash cans, as well).
  • Keep an eye on your dog and other pets, to keep them out of trouble.
  • Keep your pets a safe distance from fireworks displays by keeping them on a leash or keeping them inside the house.

Final Thoughts: Why Are Dogs Afraid of Fireworks?

As we celebrate the summer holidays, let’s not forget the ways in which the Fourth of July Independence Day holiday can be hazardous to our pets. It’s important to keep an eye on our furry friends.

If you’re going out to see fireworks, the best thing you can do for your dog is to leave them at home with a family member present.

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