A New Drug for Anxious Dogs, Just in Time for July Fourth Fireworks

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If you don't want to dose Rover with meds, here are a handful of other recommended strategies to calm his nerves.

Independence Day is no picnic for canines. They cower, tremble and hide from the noises and lights of fireworks. I heard of a dog so terrified by July Fourth noise that when her owners put her in the bathroom for a quiet break she chewed the sink’s plumbing. Many dogs bolt and run from noise. Panicked dogs have been known to charge right into traffic or run away at top speed. As a result, July 5 is the busiest day at shelters, according to the American Humane Society.

Some dog owners are intrigued with a new FDA-approved oral gel, Sileo, which uses a chemical called dexmedetomidine (sometimes used to calm humans during colonoscopies) to pacify — but not sedate, the drug’s website says — anxious animals. In a European trial 74 percent of dogs got relief (so did 33 percent of dogs that got a placebo, writes The Washington Post.

But if you’re not ready to go the prescription drug route, there are plenty of other strategies to try, including these:

  • Melatonin: This hormone (natural or synthetic) “works wonders” to calm dogs says PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Find it in drug stores and natural food stores. Give 3 milligrams to a 50-pound dog and adjust dosage up or down according to body weight. Other natural products using herbs, homeopathics, and nutraceuticals are found at pet stores.
  • Microchip your pet: A chip is a high-tech ID tag about the size of a grain of rice with an ID number. A veterinarian injects the chip beneath the pet’s skin between the shoulder blades. You register your ID number and contact information with a national pet recovery database (HomeAgain is one). Shelters and vet clinics scan lost dogs for microchips, helping return pets immediately to owners. Tip: Keep your contact information updated or the chip’s no good.
  • Keep pets at home — indoors: For everybody’s sake, do not take them to fireworks displays, where the noise and lights are worst. The American Kennel Club advises: Once the festivities begin, keep your pet in a safe room where he can feel comfortable. If he is crate-trained, put him in his crate covered with a blanket to make him feel secure.
  • Muffle the noise: You can insulate pets from the worst noises and lights by closing your home’s curtains and windows, lowering blinds and playing calming music or turning on the TV.
  • Try a ThunderShirt. These vests deliver gentle, constant pressure said to calm nervous or anxious animals. ThunderShirt is the brainchild of Phil Blizzard whose 50-pound dog would climb, trembling, onto his sleeping owner’s chest during nighttime storms. Blizzard found that taping the dog snugly into an old T-shirt calmed him. ThunderShirts ($40 and up) are sold online and in pet stores. Move fast and you might be able to get the red-white-and-blue July Fourth version. But does it work? The Post says: “There is limited research into how the ThunderShirt works, although one study found little change in behavior for anxious dogs wearing the wrapping.”

How do you calm your pets when fireworks explode or storms rattle the house? Share your thoughts below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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