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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Happy "Make Dogs Freak Out" Day

In a few days the United States of America will celebrate it's 240th birthday.  July 4th is a day of celebration, barbecues, and fireworks.  Lots and lots of fireworks.  While we see some similar noise-making celebrations on Memorial Day and New Year's Eve, Independence Day is by far the most associated with big, noisy explosions in the sky.

At these times we see an abundance of noise-related anxiety in dogs.  While most dogs seem to do okay when fireworks are bursting outside, some have a serious problem with the explosions.  This can range from trembling and hiding under the bed to becoming destructive in their attempts to find a way to escape the noise.  

I was reminded of the upcoming holiday today when I was inundated with requests from clients for medications to help their dogs through the fireworks.  I had to authorize drugs for five different patients, which is about the same number that I've approved for the first six months of this year.  It's obvious that we have many patients that freak out when the fireworks start shooting off.

Joking aside, this can be a serious source of anxiety for many dogs.  Products such as Thundershirt and Storm Defender actually can work well in many patients with noise phobias.  I'm also a big believer in Dog Appeasing Pheromone, found in Adaptil and Comfort Zone.  All of these options are nice because they're readily available from pet suppliers, and will work without side effects.

For dogs who still suffer from severe anxiety despite using the above products, prescription medications are often necessary.  Historically many vets have relied on sedatives such as acepromazine or even diphenhydramine (Benadryl).  These drugs are not recommended by behavioral specialists because they don't actually remove the anxiety.  Instead, they make the dog sleepy enough that they can't act on the anxiety.  Your dog will still feel fearful, but they will be too sedated to do anything about it.

The most common anti-anxiety medications used for noise phobias are alprazolam and trazadone.  Both act rapidly, without the need for weeks of use before becoming effective.  They have a decent length of action, from around four to eight hours.  Personally I lean towards alprazolam, but many vets prefer trazadone.  Either one can be effective and may be necessary.

Very recently a new product came on the market for noise phobias, an oral gel called Sileo.  The chemical compound is dexmedotomidine, which is most commonly used as an injectable sedative.  Earlier today I did a little searching on this medication, and the impression I have come away with is that it isn't a very effective product.  At least two board-certified behavioral specialists stated on the Veterinary Information Network that they hadn't seen much of an effect on improving anxiety in dogs using the product, and they wouldn't recommend it for routine use.  My practice doesn't carry Sileo, and from what I've read about it so far I'm not impressed or eager to recommend it.

If your dog suffers from fear and anxiety related to fireworks or thunderstorms, find a vet who has some advanced skills in animal behavior and seek their advice.  Don't rely on sedatives that only mask the problem while still allowing your dog to feel anxious.