As the owner of a rescue farm, holidays with fireworks are my least favorite. Before discovering the calming power of full spectrum CBD, my home was filled with panicked howls, whimpers, and the sound of dogs pacing. Seeing the animals on my farm cower and shake every time a firework burst broke my heart.
Most people I have met fall into one of two categories: those who love fireworks, and those who hate them. Pet parents tend to fall into the latter category, and for good reason.
Fireworks fears by the numbers
According to a 2015 study published in Applied Animal Behavior Science, which took into account 5,000 dogs of 17 breeds:
- Dogs are more afraid of fireworks than they are of gunshots, thunderstorms, or heavy traffic.
- 21 percent showed “strong or very strong signs of being fearful” during fireworks.
- Only 10 percent of dogs exhibited fear of thunderstorms.
- 14 percent of dogs reacted to gunshots.
- Fear of loud noises increases with age.
It is not just dogs who suffer when fireworks explode. In a 2010 study surveying 3,527 dogs and cats, roughly 46 percent of cats displayed a level of fear of fireworks that was recognizable to the pet owners. The study also revealed that although dogs exhibit a more outward display or fear of fireworks while cats exhibit cowering behaviors, the duration of fear-based responses did not differ between dogs and cats. Of the animals observed, six percent were injured because of their fear-based reactions.
A dangerous reaction
Exhibiting signs of fear can mean a wide range of things for different pets. For some, it means they are suffering from regular anxiety which shows through barking, pacing, and panting. But for others, fear can lead to dangerous results.
In recent years, multiple reports have surfaced of older dogs and even puppies suffering heart attacks which lead to their death during fireworks displays. Additionally, during these noisy celebrations there are increased incidents of dogs running through sliding glass doors or running away. In fact, more dogs are lost on July 4 and January 1 than any other days of the year.
Loud fireworks are often a trigger for panic disorder (PD) and canine-post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). PD and C-PTSD are more than just a reaction to fear and can cause unexpected urination, defecation, vocalization, salivation, trembling or shaking, increased and unfocused motor activity, decreased motor activity or freezing, random destruction, and escape behaviors.
Beyond just pets having intense fear and panic reactions to fireworks, human anxiety can be triggered as well (which can create a chain reaction in causing anxiety with pets.) Veterans and survivors of shootings are more likely to have an episode of PTSD on fireworks holidays, and children are often afraid of the sound of fireworks which can trigger anxiety in pets. Fireworks also can cause irreversible hearing damage to both people and pets because they typically exceed 150 decibels, while the pain threshold for sound is 120 decibels, according to American Hearing and Audiology.
These panic responses (in both people, and pets) occur because of the fight or flight reaction that happens in the body. When you, or your pet, is responding to acute stress and external stressors, the sympathetic nervous system is activated due to the sudden release of hormones. These hormones stimulate the adrenal glands, triggering the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline, which results in an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. It can take up to an hour for the body to return to normal after the threat is gone, which is why so many dogs continue to pant and panic after the fireworks end.
These panic reactions can be seen directly on my farm. Nina, a Doberman, and Odie, a miniature schnauzer, are terrified of fireworks. Their reactions range from barking incessantly to pacing, panting, and hiding – all depending on how close and loud the fireworks are. Despite living in an area with daily thunderstorms, noise anxiety is a very real issue for my sweet Nina and my sassy Odie and it peaks during fireworks.
How CBD can help and why you should avoid Benadryl
Despite all of the frightening facts about fireworks, there is a safe way to help your pets and even yourself: full spectrum CBD. Full spectrum CBD is becoming an increasingly popular option for treating PD, C-PTSD, and PTSD on holidays when fireworks will be used.
CBD is known primarily as an anti-anxiety medication for both people and pets for good reason. A study published in Current Neuropharmacology states: “CBD seems to be a promising drug for the treatment of [panic disorders].”
A 2013 article published in Neuropharmacology also found that: “In addition to modulating basal anxiety states, recent studies suggest an important role for the endocannabinoid (eCB) and glucocorticoid systems in the modulation of emotional states and extinction of aversive memories in animals.” This means that CBD can help in facilitating extinction of negative emotion surrounding triggers, like fireworks, and helps treat PTSD and anxiety or panic disorders in people and animals.
Even more interesting: 2019 study published in the Permanente Journal found that CBD has a calming effect on the central nervous system and is better tolerated than other psychiatric medications.
Cannabinoids in the hemp plant, including CBD, interact in the endocannabinoid system. Every mammal (and even some insects) has an endocannabinoid system, which has receptors that instruct the cells how to heal and restore homeostasis in the body. Dogs have twice the amount of receptors than people, which means that CBD and other cannabinoids are incredibly effective. Some dogs have a more sensitive endocannabinoid system than others, so the amount of CBD that is needed can vary between dogs. For example, Nina is nearly three times the size of Odie, but she only needs about 4.5 mg of CBD to see a positive result, yet tiny Odie needs a full 9 mg. Finding the right dosage just takes tweaking and experimenting. If your dog doesn’t seem to be responding to the initial dose, it is perfectly safe to give them more without fear of overdosing because it is impossible to overdose on CBD. If your dog takes too much, the worst that will happen is that they will become sleepy and possibly experience diarrhea.
Although many vets recommend giving your pet children’s Benadryl, it is important to remember that this drug is not intended for animals and may have side effects. For example, Benadryl can put a strain on a dog’s liver and kidneys if they are already experiencing issues in those areas. CBD is a safer, natural solution to keeping your pet relaxed.
Since using CBD, the animals on my farm no longer shake, pace, or panic during fireworks. Instead, they are able to rest and nap despite the noise, without the sedative effect of Benadryl.
Other safe ways to help your pet
- Keep your pet inside. Your natural instinct might be to let your dog face their fear and join you outside. However, they may try to run away become more aggressive. Instead, let your dog run and exercise outside earlier in the day and when the fireworks begin, bring them in.
- Keep their environment calm. Close the blinds or curtains so that they aren’t panicked by the bright lights in addition to the noise. You may find that playing soft music helps keep them calm as well.
- Keep guests away from your pet. New people can cause more anxiety in a panicked dog, so if there are lots of new people in your home or if you are using confetti poppers, keep pets in their own calm space rather than letting them roam the party.
- Create a wrap. Your pet can benefit from being put in a shirt, vest, or wrap. Putting something with weight or slight pressure on your pet creates a calming effect, according to a recent study examined in the Wall Street Journal. Just like weighted blankets help people with anxiety, creating a comfortable weighted shirt or swaddle can give the dog a sense of feeling grounded and calm, so long as they are still able to move around freely. You can find vests, like the Thunder Shirt, at your local pet store. You can also save money by wrapping your pet’s chest in an ace bandage (but not too tight!) to create the same effect.
What can you do to make the holidays safer?
Frustratingly, fireworks do not actually need to have sound. In fact, many fireworks displays in Europe use so-called “quiet fireworks,” and a town in Italy passed a law that all fireworks must be quiet. Currently, few cities and towns in the U.S. are being petitioned to enact similar laws, but the number of petitions seem to be growing. To get involved, find and contact your local congressional representative here to urge them to enact stricter fireworks laws and to consider requiring all fireworks to be quiet fireworks. Until more quiet fireworks laws are enacted, you can help reduce the amount of fireworks noise (and reduce the risk of starting wildfires or becoming injured) by attending controlled fireworks shows in your community rather than buying your own.
To learn more about how to keep your pet safe during the holidays, visit www.angelaardolino.com.
About Angela Ardolino
Angela Ardolino is passionate about animals and has dedicated her life to providing all-natural relief to pets of all ages and breeds. Ardolino has worked with animals for over 20 years and operates Fire Flake Farm, a rescue farm in Lutz, FL. A medical cannabis expert, Ardolino holds a degree in the therapeutic uses of cannabis from the University of Vermont School of Medicine and is the founder of CBD Dog Health. Combining her background in broadcast journalism and her passion for pets, Ardolino is the host of a pet-centric podcast, “It’s a Dog’s Life” on Cannabis Radio. Additionally, she is the owner of Beautify the Beast, a natural pet salon and spa. Ardolino has five dogs and up to 10 residing on her farm who she is fostering or boarding.