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Tue, Dec. 10

Fourth of July is no holiday for pets

Tomorrow, we celebrate one of the most important national holidays in the United States, Independence Day or the Fourth of July. This day commemorates the formal adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.

So, why is this bit of history important to our pets? Well, it's the way many of us celebrate this day. Fireworks are almost always involved, which result in plenty of noise. In our part of the world, the Fourth of July sometimes coincides with the onset of the monsoon - again, the accompanying thunder and lightning storms produce plenty of noise. For many pets, especially dogs, all of this noise causes extreme fear producing panic that can result in some very bad outcomes.

This extreme fear of thunder and the explosive sounds of fireworks is known as noise phobia. At the first sounds of a coming storm, the animal goes on the alert, and becomes visibly anxious. Heart rate increases, and a search for a safe spot ensues.

The animal may go behind a couch, or dart into the laundry room. However, in his mind, there seems to be no escape from the noise. This can lead to full blown panic with the dog panting heavily and shaking uncontrollably.

The panicky dog may then exhibit destructive behavior in an effort to get away from the noise, such as violent scratching and trying to chew through any obstacle to escape. In his best selling book "Marley & Me" about life with his yellow Labrador retriever, John Grogan describes an unbelievable reaction Marley has while confined in a closed garage during a thunder storm. While Marley was somewhat over the top, any pet suffering from noise phobia can cause destruction to varying degrees.

So, what can be done to help a pet that shows prolonged fear of noise? First of all, be aware of your pet's likely reaction to thunder and the noise of exploding fireworks. Keep him inside during these stressful times. If you can, stay close to your pet. Let him be in the same room with you. Sometimes a radio tuned to soft music sooths noise anxiety. Some experts have recommended harp music. The use of a crate located in a cool, dark, safe place can help calm an agitated dog.

Your veterinarian can provide valuable advice on various medications that have produced good results. Helpful information on behavior modification is available on the Internet and from professional dog behaviorists.

Remember, you should never punish your dog for being afraid, or for any destruction that the animal may cause while it is in a panicked state. Punishment will not prevent the problem from happening again.

In spite of efforts to contain pets during fireworks displays and/or thunderstorms, many escape their confines and become lost. Each year about this time, we receive an extraordinary number of calls inquiring about lost pets. Precautions to help ensure your pet's safe return if he becomes lost should be observed at all times. Current identification secured to the pet's collar is effective and inexpensive.

A microchip implanted under the skin is another method that can be used to supplement collar I.D. Posting flyers with current photos of the lost pet can be helpful if the pet goes missing. Newspaper and radio ads can aid your search, and periodic inquiries to animal rescue groups and animal control agencies can lead to the recovery of your beloved pet.

We hope you'll never have to launch a search for a lost pet. Just be aware that excessive fear of noise is a relatively common affliction of pets, especially dogs and take some precautions now to alleviate potential problems. Then, enjoy your Fourth of July holiday!

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