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How to help pets fight fireworks anxiety

Tuesday - 7/1/2014, 9:08am  ET

Moxie pet (WTOP)
Moxie (owned by WTOP staffer who would rather not be named) becomes vary agitated by loud noises such as fireworks, but is comforted when wrapped tightly in a "thunder coat." (WTOP)
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WASHINGTON -- Fireworks can traumatize pets, but owners can take steps to make sure this Fourth of July is a fun and safe one for their furry friends.

Last Independence Day, the number of dogs at the Prince William County Animal Shelter doubled between the mornings of July 4 and 5.

A pet owner says his Havanese, Moxie "shakes like a leaf" when she encounters loud noises.

"She pants and you can tell she's just terrified," says the pet owner who would rather not be named.

Moxie is comforted by being wrapped in a tightly-fitted thunder coat.

Soothing strategies can be used in incremental and increasing combinations depending on how disturbed pets become, says veterinarian Dr. Katy Nelson.

For dogs and cats with average anxiety:

  • Put them in a small, quiet interior room with no windows and bathrooms are ideal because exhaust fans can create white noise.
  • Include water and comfort items such as the pet's bed and favorite toys.
  • Shut them in with a loving goodbye and a treat. Don't act sorry or guilty.
  • Remove pets from a quiet room nonchalantly as though it's no big deal.

Dr. Nelson says pheromone and thunder coats work to calm about half the pets using them. For pets with higher-than-average anxiety, combine a quiet room with:

For severe anxiety when animals become sick or may harm themselves:

  • Consult a veterinarian about anti-anxiety medications.
  • Try out the medication prior to the trigger event to determine appropriate dosage.
  • Try a lower dosage, if a pet appears too dopey or "flattened" by meds.
  • Consult a vet about increasing dose or combining with a second medication, if dosage appears ineffective.
  • Don't sedate pets. That only creates a sleepy pet that is still traumatized.

Dr. Nelson says pet owners shouldn't feel as though the "quiet room" is banishing a pet away from an owner's comfort.

"I think if you look at it that way, then your pet is going to sense that from you," she says.

Dogs, for example, are den animals.

"They really do like having that safe protected sort of closed-in environment, that's why kennels are very effective for many dogs that suffer from anxiety. If you have a dog that loves his crate that's probably the best place for him," Nelson says.

Also, the "quiet room" doesn't have to be a bathroom.

"You might have a large walk-in closet, or some other area that you think they might be more comfortable in," Nelson says.

Also, Nelson stresses that pet owners should not act sad, ashamed or guilty when putting a pet in or taking them out of the "quiet room."

"If you don't make a big deal about it then they're going to feel like: 'OK, my human isn't worked up, so I guess is shouldn't be worked up either,' and it'll help them to get through it a lot better," Nelson says.

Get more information about Fourth of July events and safety tips in the WTOP live blog.

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