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

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Booming Fireworks Displays A Worry for Your Pet


Pet Column for the week of June 24, 2002


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

Most people like to celebrate the Fourth of July with a bang, but dogs often prefer a quieter holiday. The loud noises generated by fireworks can be very upsetting to dogs, causing extreme anxiety in some cases. Inappropriate behavior caused by this anxiety can result in a range of behaviors, from hiding to destruction of property.

Dr. Sheila McCullough, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, recommends a simple approach to this problem. "If you know that the Fourth is coming up and you suspect that your pet may be frightened by fireworks, then you may want to consider keeping your pet in a calm, quiet place such as an inside room of the house," says Dr. McCullough. "Leaving a TV or a radio on may also help to calm the distressed pet."

Dr. McCullough also recommends spending time with your pet. Your presence may be very reassuring and may provide additional distraction from the loud activity going on outside.

Desensitization is another method of coping with anxiety. It requires that the pet be exposed to the anxiety-producing stimulus simultaneously with a positive stimulus in order to teach the pet that it need not be afraid. While this method of anxiety management can be used to help your pet overcome fears, it should be used with caution. If not done correctly, it could cause even more anxiety and confusion to the pet. It is recommended that you attempt this only after seeking the guidance from a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.

There are some pets that have such bad anxiety problems that they can hurt themselves and cause damage to property around them in spite of the owner's best efforts. These animals may benefit from anti-anxiety medication, which should only be used after consulting with your veterinarian.

Dr. McCullough says, "Using medications to curb undesirable behavior can be a good thing, and has saved many pet/owner relationships, but that doesn't mean that medication is for everyone." If given to animals with liver or kidney disease, some medications can make those conditions worse. 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.

If you are having a behavior problem with your pet, contact your local veterinarian. If your veterinarian feels that the problem is severe enough, have him or her contact a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.