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This post was originally published in July 2020. It has been updated with new information (see sections on CBD oil and essential oils) that will help other people living with anxious dogs. Best of luck on the Fourth and I hope you like the post. If you're here for the Shopping List, it's right before the final image in this blog post.
The Fourth of July is coming, the worst holiday for many pet parents. Last year, I was hopeful that the holiday would be canceled due to the pandemic. Ummmm, nope. And if we didn't cancel during the height of the pandemic, we definitely won't be canceling this year. In fact, I think people will double down now that states are opening.
Even with fireworks being made illegal two years ago, people will always find a way to light off fireworks once night falls on the Fourth of July, Rodrigo will be terrified and all of my dogs will be stressed the EFF out.
Our History Raising Dogs and the Fourth of July
We live on 5 acres in a quiet area. Despite the acreage that surrounds us, fireworks are a nightmare because they are loud AF. There were years – before fireworks were made illegal – when it sounded like fireworks were being set off on our porch.
My first year as a dog mom, I assumed that my dogs would have an issue with fireworks and asked our veterinarian for drugs, which he prescribed with no issues. I didn't think anything was wrong with this, but looking back I'm stunned that I was able to get medication so easily. Rodrigo and Sydney were young, we didn't know how they would react, and there are so many things I could have done differently to prepare them for the fireworks.
Right before all hell broke loose that year, I opened one of the doors, and Rodrigo, a black puppy, ran out into the night (we're in a rural area – no street lights), and we couldn't find him. He was freaked out so his recall went out the window. He was drugged so we couldn't predict his behavior. We got lucky and found him at the edge of our property (200 feet away) and got him back inside as the fireworks started all around us.
I never drugged my dogs again, until last year when Rodrigo's anxiety level reached epic levels.
Easing My Dog's Fear of Fireworks Naturally
As our dogs grew up, I began learning about many natural things I could do to improve their health and diet. I was introduced to Rescue Remedy, essential oils, and, later on, CBD oil. I have tried everything and while Sydney (and our other dogs) made it through the Fourth of July okay, Rodrigo has always struggled.
I blamed myself for his fear because a trainer told me that I rewarded his behavior by comforting him, so for years, while I always allowed Rodrigo to sit next to me, I was hesitant to react and respond when he exhibited anxiety during a storm or fireworks. A dog trainer recently gave me the following analogy to explain to me that it's okay to comfort my dog.
Anyway, back to what I've done for my dogs in prior years.
Where we live, the fireworks start a month before the Fourth of July. So I would go about my day – walk the dogs, play with the dogs, and pretend that I couldn't hear the occasional BOOM! By doing this, I saw that Rodrigo began to ignore the fireworks too. He was distracted by playing, walking, and exploring. But once night came, he would become anxious. So each evening, I would diffuse an essential oil blend for calmness, and, starting a few years ago, I began giving Rodrigo CBD treats, and, eventually, I moved on to CBD oil when the treats no longer worked.
The CBD oil products that work best for my dogs are:
This year, I started giving Rodrigo (geriatric) and Scout (cancer) CBD oil 2-3 times daily and it makes a big difference. The trick is the KEEP CBD oil in the system, not add it at the sign of anxiety. I've tried this with thunderstorms and Rodrigo went from shivering like a leaf in my lap to sleeping next to me. Big change.
Once night falls on the Fourth of July, I put on a loud movie in an attempt to drown out the fireworks. King Kong, Jurassic Park, the Marvel Universe, and the Underworld series are a few favorites. Each of the dogs get a monster bully stick or a monster Himalayan chew to distract them from the noise. We also have chews from Real Dog Box. Once I get everyone settled, I camp out in the living room with the dogs to “enjoy” the holiday.
This routine has worked for years. Lots of exercise, essential oils, CBD oil, long-lasting chews, and a loud movie.
When Natural No Longer Works for Our Dogs
One thing I hate about social media is that everyone is an expert and everyone wants to share advice. I know people mean well and just want to help, but sometimes I just want to scream. When I share that I am going to turn to drugs to ease my dog's anxiety on the Fourth of July, I'm astounded that people assume that I haven't tried everything else.
COME ON PEOPLE!!! I'M A DAMN RAW FEEDER!!! I HAVE TWO DEDICATED FREEZERS AND A FRIDGE FOR MY DOGS!!! I HAVE A BLOG ABOUT RAISING DOGS NATURALLY!!!
So, YES, I have tried everything. And while I know that the suggestions for new things to try are just someone's attempt to help, I struggle with feeling like I'm failing my dog.
What Doesn't Work for Rodrigo's Anxiety
The following are things that work for my other dogs, but no longer work for Rodrigo:
Exercise – I take my dogs for walks two times on the Fourth of July and we have several playing sessions in the yard that day. My goal is to wear them THE EFF out. While Rodrigo will play along too, he's getting older and wears out easier, so once the fireworks start, he's not really worn out and the noise wakes him up. He no longer gets “too tired.”
Rescue Remedy – I don't think Rescue Remedy has ever worked for my dogs. It tastes awful (yes, of course, I've tasted it) and the dogs eventually started to run from me when they saw the yellow bottle. So I gave up. If it works for your dog, wow!!, you are lucky!!!
Essential Oils – I started by using Young Living essential oils. Today, I have oils from Plant Living and Simply Earth for myself and I use AnimalEO essential oils for my dogs and IT WORKS!!!! ANIMALEO IS THE BEST (thanks, Diane) and works so well. So, now I diffuse Calm-a-Mile Neat and I apply Calm-a-Mile RTU (ready to use) to each of the dogs daily during the days prior to the Fourth and on the big day itself.
Ewegurt – this natural supplement made from sheep's milk works great for all of our dogs, but I stopped seeing an effect on Rodrigo in 2020. So I didn't place an order for the Fourth of July. But if you have a dog that has some anxiety this time of the year, I suggest giving Ewegurt a try – it worked great for my dogs for years.
CBD Treats – so most CBD treats are a waste of money with my dogs. I have tried several brands that seemed to work with them, but not enough to justify their cost. And, like the essential oils, I saw a definite mellowness in my dogs on an average day, but on the Fourth of July, I was just throwing everything I had at my dogs and hoping for the best.
I do order CBD treats from CannaPet and, combined with the CBD oil, they are a great tool for the Fourth of July.
What has Worked for Rodrigo's Anxiety
CBD Oil – CBD oil helped with all of our dogs, but I was always disappointed because it didn't ease Rodrigo's anxiety enough. I learned two things about CBD oil:
1 – CBD oil isn't going to take away his fear or knock him out – it'll just make it so that he functions better – so he can go outside (to their fenced yard) for a potty break without incident.
2 – CBD oil needs to remain in the system to be most effective with my dogs, so giving Rodrigo CBD oil in the morning or in the evening when the fireworks start isn't enough. He needs more so I now give it to him every few hours, up to 3 times a day, every day. Not just when I think he needs it.
Last year, I gave up on the CBD oil because it wasn't effective. Something changed with Rodrigo and I don't know what happened. Could it be the addition of a fifth dog? Could it be Rodrigo's age? Could it be the EPI diagnosis last winter? Whatever happened, Rodrigo was shaking violently, during storms and the fireworks.
I was truly concerned about the holiday. So I called his veterinarian and scheduled an appointment. We went over his history, he had an exam and bloodwork to make sure all is okay, and then he was prescribed Trazodone.
Will I use it this year (2021)? I'm not sure if I'll need it but I'm glad that I have it on hand just in case.
My Fourth of July Shopping List
To save you time, the following is what I order for my dogs to get us through the Fourth of July:
- animalEO Calm-a-Mile Neat (for diffusing)
- animalEO Calm-a-Mile RTU (to apply to my dogs)
- animalEO Warmth (diffuse or apply to dogs, or both)
- CBD Dog Health CALM (give 2-3 times a day starting a week prior to the Fourth
- CannaPet CBD Dog Treats
- Monster Himalayan Chews
- Monster Braided Bully Stick
- Real Dog Box Subscription
Why I Decided to Medicate My Dog for the Fourth of July
So, as I stated above, last year my normal tricks didn't work for Rodrigo and I decided to medicate him to help him through the day.
What is Trazodone?
Trazodone (brand name Desyrel®, Oleptro®) is a serotonin antagonist/reuptake inhibitor (SARI) antidepressant that is used to treat behavioral disorders, especially anxiety- or phobia-related in dogs (e.g., separation anxiety, noise phobia such as fireworks or thunderstorms, veterinary visits, hospitalization, and travel). It is frequently used as a supplemental therapy in pets that do not respond to conventional therapies.Source: VCA Hospitals
Trazodone is a small white pill that is given orally to dogs and cats. In Rodrigo's case, I was instructed to try it for a couple of days immediately after his veterinarian appointment to see how it works with him because some dogs don't respond to it. Doing this will give his veterinarian time to prescribe something different a couple of weeks before the Fourth of July.
Thankfully, Trazodone works for Rodrigo.
It may be tempting to give a dog double the dosage, but this can lead to issues, so it's best to work with the veteriarian to get the dosage right.
How I Give Trazodone to My Dog
Per the instructions, Rodrigo receives Trazodone (1 pill) the evening of July 3rd. He'll get one or two pills on the evening of July 4th. Trazodone makes him drowsy and a little out of it – when it kicks in, I direct him to a bed and he settles down and sleeps the night away.
I don't have to give the pill with food, but I like to give it to him with a dollup of peanut butter or coconut oil because Rodrigo has a history of digestive issues. I worry that a pill on an empty stomach will lead to tummy upset.
Trazodone won't take away his fear or awareness of the fireworks, but it will take the edge off. His veterinarian explained that he might look up and around, he may even bark – but it'll be like “eh, whatever, that's annoying,” instead of “THE WORLD IS COMING TO AN END, WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!!”
How Long Does it Take for Trazodone to Work?
It takes about 1 to 2 hours to see a change in Rodrigo. So, on the Fourth of July, I'll give him the pills after dinner. Our vet gave us enough to help the lingering fireworks (because they go into the first two weeks of July).
The Side Effects of Trazodone for Dogs
Trazodone is a short-acting drug. Side effects in dogs are not well documented but are generally mild if present. Possible side effects include dilated pupils, sedation, lethargy, vomiting or gagging, colitis (inflammation of the colon), ataxia (loss of muscle control), priapism (persistent and painful erection of the penis), arrhythmias, increased anxiety, increased appetite, and aggression.Source: VCA Hospitals
When trazodone is used with other serotonergic drugs [any drug that impacts the serotonin in the body], serotonin syndrome is possible. This includes signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, hyperthermia (elevated body temperature), sensitivity of the skin, depression, dilation of pupils, vocalization, blindness, excessive salivation, difficulty breathing, loss of control of movements, paralysis, disorientation, coma, and death.
This short-acting medication should stop working within 24 hours, although effects can be longer in pets with liver or kidney disease.
The reason I'm stunned that our first vet prescribed medication based on my worry about fireworks is because I've learned so much from our current veterinarian. Before Rodrigo was prescribed the Trazodone, he had a wellness exam that included a complete blood panel. Trazodone isn't recommended for dogs with severe heart disease or liver or kidney issues.
Our first vet (when Rodrigo was a puppy) just gave me a bottle of pills. No tests, no discussion, nothing.
And, because Rodrigo also occasionally takes an NSAID (anti-inflammatory), I have to avoid mixing the two. He only gets the anti-inflammatory when he's in a lot of pain, which happens from time to time. He hasn't taken one in over a year so he'll be fine on the Fourth of July if I need to turn to Trazodone.
What About My Other Dogs?
Our other dogs will receive CBD oil and essential oils (Calm-a-Mile RTU) starting a few days prior to the Fourth. While our other dogs don't show the level of stress and anxiety that we see in Rodrigo, they are stressed by the fireworks during the evening of the Fourth and the CBD oil will help.
Feed Raise the Dog In Front of You
The best advice I've received as a raw feeder is “feed the dog in front of you.” I wish I could remember who said this to me because they changed my life as a raw feeder. Instead of focusing on what others are doing, I now learn from what others are doing while focusing on what my dogs need. This goes for raising our dogs too.
Everyone has an opinion about what we should our shouldn't do with our dog, including me. But when it comes to raising happy, healthy dogs, I realized a long time ago that my dogs are my responsibility, I know them better than anyone, and I know that I will do what's best for them.
If you are considering drugs for your dog to help him or her get through the Fourth of July, DO NOT allow friends or strangers on social media to convince you that this is the wrong path. Yes, consider all of your options. But, please remember, that you know what's best for your dog. Contact your vet, learn the benefits and risk, and then make the right decision for your dog.
And, if you're reading this and think that you have the perfect solution to Rodrigo, please remember – you don't know my dog. Thank you for caring, but please trust me to make the right decision for my dog.
Have a safe, peaceful, and happy Fourth of July.