Veterinarians share their top tips for keeping your dog calm when the skies light up and go boom.
By Anna Brooks
Reviewed: June 29, 2022
Dogs can hear better than you — and that means fireworks are even louder for their sensitive ears.
For lots of people in the United States, holidays like New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July are occasions for socializing, imbibing, and celebrating. For dog owners, they’re also a time for feeling guilty as your pup cowers in the corner while fireworks crackle and pop in the sky.
Fireworks can inspire a sense of awe and wonder if you’re a human. In dogs’ experience, on the other hand, they can feel like they’re in a war zone. About 50 percent of dog owners surveyed in the New Zealand Veterinary Journal reported that their dogs were fearful during fireworks. Meanwhile, other research suggests that fireworks frighten dogs even more than gunshots or thunderstorms.
“Dogs have a more acute sense of hearing than humans, so those loud booms, crackles, and whistles are alarming,” says Kurt Venator, PhD, a doctor of veterinary medicine and the chief veterinary officer for Purina, who is based in Williamsville, New York. “They’re also unpredictable — they come without warning and at different intervals, so dogs can’t get used to them.”
And sometimes fear or anxiety in dogs isn’t as obvious as a tail between the legs. The American Kennel Club lists the following signs that your dog may be in distress:
- Excessive panting
- Going to the bathroom in the house
- Barking excessively
It’s frustrating when you can’t comfort your canine companion. To help you keep your furry friend calm and collected, we’ve rounded up a handful of top tips from veterinary experts.
1. Know Your Dog: Each Dog Reacts Differently to Fireworks and Loud Noises
Not every dog is afraid of fireworks — some even sleep right through them. Dogs who are afraid may react differently depending on their age, breed, and past trauma. Breeds like the Norwegian buhund, for example, were found to be almost four times more sensitive to loud noises like fireworks than Chinese cresteds, according to a study on noise sensitivity in 17 different dog breeds.
Because of this, Jerry Klein, a doctor of veterinary medicine in Chicago and the chief veterinary officer for the American Kennel Club, says you have to know your dog before you can help your dog.
“We have to be cognizant not of how we feel, but how the dog feels,” he says. “Different breeds handle things differently, and older dogs may not want to be immersed in a loud, crowded place. Realize who your dog is, and what’s best for them.”
2. Keep Your Dog Indoors and With Someone During Fireworks
These days, pets are treated as equals (and some, like queens and kings) in many homes, so there’s always an extra helping of guilt when your pup’s eyes fill with horror as you leave the house without them. It’s tempting to bring your dog everywhere you go, but Dr. Venator recommends leaving your dog at home if you plan to enjoy fireworks outdoors.
“Even if your dog spends most of his time outdoors, bring him inside during firework displays,” he says. “This will prevent him from running away when he feels scared, which can put him in danger.”
No one wants to miss out on celebrations like the Fourth of July, but Dr. Klein recommends not leaving a dog with a fireworks phobia or a strong reaction to loud noises at home alone. Even if they’re locked up indoors, they can still hurt themselves or damage things in the house — as an emergency vet, Klein has had cases where fearful dogs have jumped right through a glass window to escape. If you can’t be at home, his best advice is to get a dog sitter for periods of loud noises like fireworks.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also recommends dogs get a microchip, which is a tiny electronic implant embedded just under your pet’s skin with a unique code that carries information about the owner and pet. That way, if the worst-case scenario happens and your dog does run off, he will be easily identifiable and can be reunited with you more quickly.
3. Create a Safe Space at Your Home for Your Dog to Hide
Like any animal trying to avoid danger, a dog will seek refuge when he or she feels threatened. If you don’t already have one, create a safe space that’s for your dog and your dog only. For crate-trained dogs, Venator suggests adding an extra level of security by padding the space with favorite toys and a blanket or piece of clothing with your scent on it. You can also put a heavy blanket over the crate to help make the space feel more enclosed.
If your dog isn’t crate-trained, do not force him or her into one — that will just exacerbate her anxiety. Instead, Venator recommends putting a dog bed in a dark, quiet room (some dogs will hide in the bathroom, or a closet), or somewhere in the house that muffles noise from outside.
4. Distract Your Pet With Soothing Music or TV Noise
It’s impossible to drown out the sound of fireworks for canines, with their keen hearing, but introducing other noises can help distract or soothe them. Klein says to use noises that are constant or familiar to the dog, like relaxing music, the hum of an air conditioner, or something on TV (no firework-related content). Also, make sure all the windows and doors are closed — a dog’s acute sense of smell can pick up the sulfurous odor lingering in the night air. If fireworks are visible from a window, it’s also a good idea to close the curtains so your dog can’t see the explosions of light in the sky.
5. Use Treats to Help Your Dog Form Positive Associations
When in doubt, turn to food. Just like people, some dogs will lose their appetite altogether when they’re anxious, but some find it too hard to resist a tantalizing treat. Venator says that giving your dog a treat may make them feel less anxious and help establish a positive association with the sudden sounds. Treats can also serve as a distraction tactic; a juicy bone or a frozen Kong toy filled with your dog’s treat of choice (peanut butter, anyone?) can keep them busy and prevent them from chewing other things in the house.
6. Thunder Shirts and Calming Wraps May Help Your Dog Feel More Secure
Swaddling is another technique Venator says may help quell anxiety in dogs. Commercial products like the ThunderShirt — a length of lightweight fabric that wraps around your dog’s torso and is held snugly in place with Velcro — have become popular in pet communities, but beyond anecdotal evidence, there is limited research, such as a study in the July 2017 JAALAS, on whether these products actually work.
Dogs are also calmest around those they trust most (aka you), so if you’re calm, Klein says that can help a dog feel calm, too. That being said, overly comforting a dog may also be perceived as a reward for acting fearful, and too much attention may also stress out an already overstimulated dog. The American Kennel Club recommends acting as you normally do around the house (but don’t ignore your dog), and when your dog finds a safe space to settle, do not disturb them.
7. Use Calming Supplements and Medication as a Last Resort
It’s our instinct as humans to jump to a magic pill in times of crisis, but Klein says for pets, medication and supplements should always be a last resort, and only used for dogs with severe anxiety (your dog’s veterinarian can help you determine whether your dog falls into this category). Probiotic supplements, such as Purina Pro Plan Calming Care, and synthetic pheromones may help dogs cope with unfamiliar or external stressors like fireworks, but Venator says those can take weeks to kick in and may not be effective for every dog.
For serious cases, your vet may prescribe anti-anxiety medications designed for dogs, such as dexmedetomidine oromucosal gel (brand name Sileo), the first FDA-approved treatment designed to treat canine noise aversion. The American Kennel Club also notes that some dogs may benefit from selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of antidepressants that may also be used to treat severe anxiety.
CBD oil is another option that’s become popular as a treatment for anxiety in dogs, though studies, including one published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science in September 2020, are inconclusive about whether CBD helps dogs cope with noises. A study published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science in July 2018 found that CBD oil may alleviate pain and increase comfort in dogs with osteoarthritis, but there has been little research on the long-term effects of CBD treatment for dogs. According to the American Kennel Club, possible side effects of CBD oil in dogs may include drowsiness, dry mouth, and decreased blood pressure.
If you’re considering medication or supplements for your pet, remember to always consult your veterinarian first.
Additional reporting by Kristeen Cherney, PhD.