Soon, the darkest hours of my Chihuahua’s life will begin. It’s (curses) fireworks season.
My dog, Bailey, like many other dogs, goes into an absolute panic when the explosions begin. His eyes open wide, staring in terror, and he begins panting. If I’m seated, he makes a beeline for the top of my head, then he starts running up and down the stairs in search of a safe place.
By the end of the conflagration, which can go on for hours, he has devolved into a whining, angst-ridden creature who can’t be comforted.
Last year, my vet prescribed a sedative, acepromazine, a common tranquilizer that appears to work by keeping dopamine, which transmits emotion signals, from reaching brain receptors. It also stabilizes heart rhythms and lowers blood pressure.
It worked on July 4, and again on July 5 and again on July 6. I apparently live in a very patriotic neighborhood. By July 7, I grew concerned about possible side-effects, but fortunately, the neighborhood seemed to have exhausted its arsenal.
While I was glad that he was not in a complete meltdown, I felt like one of those bad parents that get eviscerated on Facebook for giving their cranky children Benadryl to make them sleep.
I know I’m not alone in this, so I decided to get some more advice on treating Bailey’s anxiety. JustAnswer.com put me in touch with Dr. Michael Salkin, a veterinarian with expertise in advanced training in dog behavior. Salkin worked in the Bay Area for many years before joining JustAnswer.com, where he says he now works harder than he ever did before. Fortunately, he loves it.
Salkin says anxiolytic benzodiazepines such as diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax) are good choices for easing anxiety in dogs. They shouldn’t be used long term, however, because dogs can build up a tolerance to them, making them less effective. They also impact the quality of life for the dog.
Instead, Salkin says, vets are using a new treatment, prescribing Sileo (dexmedetomidine), which has been used for years as a light anesthetic. It alters the perception of stimuli, such as explosions, Salkin says, and “lightly spaces them out so they don’t react adversely to the sound.”
A drawback of these medications is that each must be administered about an hour in advance for it to work properly, and you might not be able to predict when the noise will start.
To avoid drugs altogether, Salkin recommends a behavioral modification he calls the “happy routine.” He cautions, however, that you might not want to do this in public.
Once the explosions start, he says, run around your house, waving your arms, shouting and throwing treats around. The dog’s attention is deflected from the explosions and onto its crazy owner. Eventually, the dog can start to associate fireworks with treats and lose its anxiety.
It takes time, however, but if we start now, our dogs might be habituated to explosions by New Year’s Eve’s — Bailey’s second worst night of the year. read more…