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Lodi experts offer tips to keep pets calm during fireworks

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Posted: Tuesday, July 3, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 5:53 am, Tue Jul 3, 2012.

While Lodians are out celebrating our nation’s Independence Day with fantastic fireworks displays, their furry best friends might be cowering under the sofa in fear. To a human, it’s a loud boom. To a dog or cat with keen hearing, it sounds like Armageddon.

But how do you know if your dog will spook at the first round of explosions?

Officer Jennifer Bender of the Lodi Animal Shelter said the best guide to how your dog will react to the booms of fireworks is the pup’s past behavior.

“Owners should pretty much know their dog’s behavior. If they’re the type to get upset at noise, keep them inside in the bathroom or a crate” with some food and water available, she said.

For those owners who do choose to keep pets outside, check the fenceline before setting Spot loose. Even well-behaved dogs have been known to jump the fence or dig their way out when they feel endangered.

Consider staying home to monitor your pet. If you know you’ll be out, find a safe haven in your home where pets can curl up and feel secure.

“Many people think, ‘Oh, they’re going to be fine.’ Then they come back from a barbecue at 11 p.m. and the animal is gone,” said Bender.

About 20 dogs are picked up by Animal Control each year after the fireworks celebration. Seventy-five percent are usually picked up by their owners within a few days, but the rest go up for adoption when they aren’t claimed.

If pets do get out, the Lodi Animal Shelter will have an officer out on July 4 until 10 or 11 p.m. to take calls and collect loose pets. The shelter will be open on Thursday for owners to claim lost pets.

Some dogs are inevitably injured by running into traffic while scared. If Animal Control finds them in time, the dogs are transported to the emergency clinic in Stockton.

Interestingly, Bender said it’s almost always dogs who spook at the noise. She can’t think of a call coming in for a lost cat due to fireworks.

Another option is to sedate your dog. But veterinarian Karyn McCoulloch of Cherokee Veterinary Hospital said the standby pill for stressed out pets isn’t the best answer.

Acepromazine, or “Ace,” is often prescribed to keep dogs calm. While it’s a good sedative, the pill works to make dogs sleepy, not necessarily less anxious.

“Ace might actually increase noise sensitivity. So a dog may be really scared in his mind, but he’s sleepy and not doing anything about it,” said McCoulloch.

She said she gets most calls for anti-anxiety dog meds only a day or two before the dog will need them. It’s not enough time for the medication to have an effect. So for owners who want a quick fix, vets often fall back on sedatives like Ace.

The best choice is to train your dog from a young age to handle noises calmly.

“Thunderstorms, gunshots, all can stress out a dog. They can also be a learning opportunity. Do behavior modification, give the dog treats when they seem nervous,” McCoulloch said.

If a tried and true immediate solution is needed, keep your dog feeling safe, said McCoulloch. Stay inside, dim the lights, play soothing music and be with your nervous pets.

“Just keep them out of a situation where they panic and break loose. Yes, they’re scared, but the best you can do is be there for them,” she said.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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