It’s coming up on the Fourth of July, or as one of my team member calls it, “Xanax season.” She’s referring to her dog’s thunderstorm and fireworks fears, which at their worst require a veterinarian-prescribed dose of alprazolam (generic for Xanax).
I believe this medication has its place, but it’s not the only tool I recommend to help pets cope with this noisy and often-frightening time of year. Here are the tips I recommend to my patients’ owners, and use on my own fearful dog, Quixote.
1. Get outta town. For pets who are terrified of fireworks, the best bet might be to simply remove them from the threat if possible. We sometimes send Quixote to spend the Fourth out in the country with his Aunt Kate, who has no fireworks in her area. You may be able to do the same with vet hospitals or boarding facilities near you.
2. Create a pet cave. The basement may be better known as a man cave, but your pets may find its dark recessed, well-insulated from sound, to be the safest place to be during fireworks or thunderstorms. Additionally, most basements don’t have doors to the outside, thus reducing the chances a terrifed pet will bolt.
3. Strike up the band. The musical recordings available from Through a Dog’s Ear can help with all kinds of phobias and anxieties in cats and dogs.
4. Hug the fears away. No, I don’t mean with your arms. I mean with compression garments like the Thundershirt — that’s my team member, Christie Keith’s, dog Stella wearing hers below. They also make a Calming Cap, which will help some dogs when nothing else will.
5. Take a chill pill. Supplements like Solliquin for Dogs and Cats and Zylkene have done wonders for some of the noise-phobic pets in my practice, although they do need to be started a week or two in advance if possible.
6. Something in the air. Pheromone sprays, collars, and diffusers like Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats can take the edge off fear for many pets. It’s a safe and simple tip to try, but will work best as part of a program over time.
7. Get out the big guns. And no, I don’t mean fireworks — they’re big enough already! I mean head for your veterinarian and ask for a prescription. I’ve been recommending alprazolam, the generic for Xanax, for years, as it’s been the best of the prescription sedatives for noise phobias. I’ve been hearing rave reviews from veterinary behaviorists about a new drug, Sileo, so ask your veterinarian about that as well. You may need to have any medication compounded for your cat, so don’t leave it until the last minute. (Updated June 28, 2016)
Have fun, but keep your pets safe, this Independence Day!