Friday, June 21, 2013

The Sky is Falling!! The Sky is Falling!!!!

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Every year on the 4th of July - and in our neighborhood for several days before and after the 4th of July - there can be heard the shrill whistle, pops and cracks of firecrackers.  For many of us, it brings back memories of warm summer evenings, picnics, and family barbeques with watermelon and corn on the cob.  But for many dogs it signals the return of two things: Fear and Anxiety. 
One year, we happened not to go out to see the display, and realized that our dog, Kona, was terrified when the whistles and bangs went off in earnest about 9:30 pm.   First, she started by pacing back and forth, and drooling.   Then asking to go out and coming back in, and then back out again until she finally lay down behind the couch (not a spot she frequented).  She panted and quivered until we turned on the AC, shut the windows, and turned up the television.  Still, despite the distraction, she trembled quietly at my feet until nearly midnight.   Years later, she lost her hearing and it no longer became an issue, but clearly her anxiety was real and all the physical signs of stress and fear came to the surface.  I was grateful (and so was she) that we had witnessed her reaction so that we could make the appropriate preparations the next year.
After attending a conference in Seattle later that year, I learned from a veterinary behaviorist from Pennsylvania about her own dog who reacted the same way to thunderstorms.  She had discovered that her dog’s anxiety was alleviated by a low dose of anti-anxiety medication known as alprazolam.  It turns out that if dosed appropriately a few hours in advance of anticipated storms (or fireworks), and repeated shortly before the events escalated, her dog (and mine) would settle down and sleep instead of pacing, panting, hiding, and shaking.  In the years that followed, I have supplemented my treatment of anxiety in dogs with a combination of sedation and anti-anxiety medication that seems to work better for most dogs with firework anxiety. 

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So for all those dogs out there that experience the anxiety and fear of loud falling lights from the sky, there is hope!  Speak to your veterinarian and prepare for this in advance of a problem this year.  Not all solutions will involve medication depending on the degree of distress.  Your veterinarian can help you decide what is best.  Our dogs, with their super strong hearing, don’t have to dread this curious holiday with falling skies any longer!!