Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Some Dogs Think Fourth of July Festivities are for the Birds!

Pet Column for the week of May 21, 2001

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Jennifer Stone
Information Specialist

Summer can be a fun time for dogs and their owners alike, but many dogs would prefer to skip the fireworks activities around the Fourth of July. Anxiety surrounding this holiday is not uncommon in dogs and can result in a range of behaviors from simply trying to hide from the noise to destroying property.

Dr. Sheila McCullough, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, recommends a simple approach to this problem. She says, "If you know that the Fourth of July is coming up and there will be a lot of fireworks in your area, the first thing that you should do to try to manage the problem is to remove the dog from that environment."

Putting the dog in an inside room of the house with the television or radio on may be just the antidote for anxiety. Dr. McCullough also recommends spending a lot of time with your pet. Your presence may be very reassuring and may provide additional distraction from all of the loud activity going on outside.

Desensitization is another method that can be used to help your pet overcome his or her fears, but this method of dealing with anxiety should be used with caution. This method of fear management involves exposing the pet to the thing that it is afraid of while producing a positive stimulus at the same time in order to teach the pet that it does not need to be afraid. If this is not done correctly, then it may not help the problem at all and may only serve to confuse the pet more. It is recommended that you attempt this only after seeking the guidance from a board certified behaviorist.

There are some pets that have such bad anxiety problems that they become destructive to themselves and to property around them in spite of the best efforts of the owner. For these animals, drug therapy may be the only alternative. If you have a pet whose behavior is unmanageable due to its anxiety, you should seek advice from your veterinarian before putting your pet on any medication.

Dr. McCullough says, "Drug therapy can be a good thing, and it has saved many pet/owner relationships, but that doesn't mean that medication is for everyone." Some medications, if given to animals with liver or kidney disease, can make those conditions worse and can cause life-threatening complications. For this reason, a complete physical exam and blood work should be done before any medication is given. In addition, the problem should also be managed from a behavioral standpoint with advice from a board certified behaviorist.

Regardless of the severity of the problem, it is best to address the problem as soon as it happens. Don't assume that an animal will grow out of a certain behavior. Waiting may give the behavior time to become a habit, which may be more difficult to change in the future. As soon as you start to see any behavior problem, you should seek help before the problem gets out of control.