Thursday, July 9, 2009

Betty Cini lost her sheepdog, Angie, on the Fourth of July ten years ago. “We were outside and she was with us. Some of the neighbors shot off fireworks and she took off running and we never saw her again,” Cini said. “My beautiful little sheepdog, she was a great dog.”

Fireworks are a staple to most Fourth of July celebrations, but some dogs are sensitive to noises and can respond with fear to sounds such as thunder or fireworks. Loud, unfamiliar noises can cause panic, which can lead to serious injuries.

More dogs run away on Fourth of July than any other time of the year.

“Dogs are individuals and have individual reactions to noises,” said Dr. Julia Albright from the animal behavioral clinic at Cornell University. “Some dogs seem completely unaffected, whereas others, the slightest pin drop sends them into a tail spin.”

The anxiety caused by fireworks is acutely physical. Several studies have indicated that dogs may respond mildly to loud noises with symptoms like excessive panting, barking, drooling and trembling. More severe responses include destroying drywall, damaging windows, and other destructive ways to find routes of escape.

“My dog is especially sensitive to fireworks,” said dog owner, Ashley Gerrison, 27, a sales associate from San Francisco. “He gets really clingy and this is even when the fireworks are from miles down the road.”

According to animal behavioral experts, dogs can hear ten times better than humans. However, anxiety doesn’t have to be caused by loud noises. “I once treated a dog for thunderstorm and noise phobia who had never shown anxiety until a tree fell on the family house during a storm,” said Dr. Albright.

Dr. Ilana Reisner, assistant professor of behavioral medicine, at The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine Dogs said that some dogs appear to develop a worsening fear over time that eventually is characterized as a phobia.

A study of thirty dogs that showed signs of fear in response to fireworks came out of Animal Behaviour, Cognition and Welfare Group, University of Lincoln in England. G. Sheppard, One of the leading researchers in the study wanted to see if an appealing dog pheromone would alleviate their fear of loud noises. The owners said that their dogs showed significant improvements in most behavioral signs of fear. Although this is an effective way of dealing with fear, the FDA has not approved it for sale in the United States.

There are some precautions owners can follow to keep dogs safe. “Having a good solid fence at least five feet tall will decrease the probability of the dog escaping during a panic attack,” said Dr. Albright. “As veterinary behaviorists, we use medications and behavior modification to decrease noise and thunderstorm phobia.”

"Together with the right precautions and treatment," Dr. Albright said, “the dogs will learn how to stay in the situation and not let anxiety overtake them."

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