Top Tips for Calming Your Pet during Thunderstorms, Fireworks, and Firecrackers

Does your pet become anxious and stressed during thunderstorms? Do fireworks or other loud noises send your furry companion over the edge? 

Sometimes it is difficult to know the exact cause of your pet’s anxiety, and in other instances, it is very obvious. When it begins to thunder loudly, and your pet begins to howl, shake, or run to a different location within the house, you can pretty much make an educated guess that they are scared of the loud rumble. When holidays come around, celebrations that yield loud noises such as fireworks can be debilitating to your pet. 

Whether your pet is anxious only because they are scared of the sounds, if they have very sensitive hearing that gives them pain during times of loudness, or if they are reacting to a change in the pressure on the barometer from the thunderstorm, their anxiety should be taken seriously. Just like people that have anxiety, it is a real condition that should not be ignored. 

Here are some tips to address the situation of pet anxiety related to noise.

Give Your Dog a Place to Go

If your pet is introduced to a safe haven, especially from a very young age, they will always know where to go in times of enjoyment and in times of stress. A “safe haven” can be a kennel with the door left open so they can come and go as they please or a corner in the room with lots of blankets and pillows. You may have a special room that is not used by the family as much, such as a small den or spare bedroom for your pet to retreat to in times of stress, or even just to get away for a bit. 

If the loudness tends to be unbearable, you can make your pup's safe haven in the downstairs section of the house as this may muffle the sounds a bit. As long as this special space is comfortable and easily accessible, your pet will find comfort in knowing that a getaway spot is there for them.

Desensitize Your Dog With Behavior Modification

If you notice that your companion consistently gets anxious and fearful during thunderstorms, on the Fourth of July, New Year's Eve, or any other “louder than normal” holiday, it may be time to prepare for the next time loudness occurs. Sure, you can’t necessarily predict when the next thunderstorm with clapping thunder will be, but you can begin the preparations so your pet doesn’t suffer so much.

This is called desensitization, and not only does it work in people, but animals as well. When an individual has a fear or phobia of something, he can go to therapy or self-treat with gradually, over time, exposing himself to the object or sound that is causing the anxiety. With pets, you can play the sound of a thunderstorm, fireworks, sirens, or anything that makes your pet nervous, and over time increase the volume. This therapy may work wonders for your pet and you as well…because when your pet is scared and anxious, so are you!

Distract Your Dog With Toys and Treats

During times of stress and anxiety caused by storms or loud noises, spend time with your furry buddy and their favorite toys or treats. Fill a chew toy with dog-friendly peanut butter and watch them enjoy the taste and mental stimulation as they manipulate and lick the toy. Yes, thunderstorms and fireworks can be loud and hard to ignore, but if you sit with your dog you may be able to provide a little distraction. Many pets love attention from their owners, regardless of what is happening in their world around them, and you may see that the diversion will help. 

Coupled with your distraction method, add another noise to drown out the negative sounds, such as music, the television, a fan, or a “white noise” machine. This can be turned on before the noise hits, such as before the fireworks display on a holiday.

Wrap Your Dog Up

Pressure has been used to treat anxiety in people for years, and it can be an ideal solution for your anxious pet. Called a "thunder shirt," the garment applies pressure to your dog's torso and is thought to have the same effect as if you were to swaddle a newborn. The pressure helps keep your best buddy calm and less scared. Many dogs love their thunder shirt and will look for it when stressed. Typically, results are seen the first time it is worn or within the second or third use. 

Also, acupressure can release calming hormones. Acupressure can be self-taught, or a specialist can teach you where the proper points are on your companion. With gentle firmness, hold your fingers on the specific point on your pet’s body for about one minute, and breathe in and out deeply with them. Doing so will produce a sensation of calmness. Finish off with a few calming strokes with your flat hand and you may see a difference in your pet’s behavior.

Are There Other Ways to Calm my Dog?

There are additional ways to alleviate the stress your dog may feel during loud noise events. For example, there are calming medications that your vet can prescribe in severe cases. If you do not want to go that route, try the following ideas.

  • Synthetic pheromones can be used in a number of ways and have a calming effect in the same way that natural pheromones do. A pheromone diffuser, for example, is plugged into the wall and releases a scent that gives your dog a sense of well-being and a feeling that they are safe. 
  • Tire your furry companion out with an extra-long walk and session at the dog park or via exercise like running or hill climbing. Do this an hour before the fireworks start. Combined with a cozy crate in a secluded area and a form of white noise to drown out the sound, the tiredness after the exercise may allow your dog to snooze through the entire event.
  • Feed your dog and take them out for an extended potty break well before the thunderstorm is expected. This enables your pup to be comfortable and ready for a rest. 

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