Q: My dog is frightened by fireworks. How can I help him?
A: Great question and this is very common. It’s certainly best to know when fireworks are to be expected so that you can make preparations if possible. If you can leave town for a quieter setting, that would be fantastic. But because fireworks are mostly ubiquitous this time of year, it’s going to be tough to avoid, so try to insulate your dog from the sights and sounds. Use your basement or an internal room of your house. Play the radio or turn the television up loudly to help mask the sounds. Close windows, doors and blinds to reduce the visual clues and sounds of the fireworks.
It’s best to stay with your dog if possible. Dogs are social creatures and your presence is comforting. Dogs will respond to situations that are potentially scary to them by watching their owners’ actions and emotions. Be calm, supportive, and snuggly. You can give treats or play games to distract them as well. It’s also good for you to be present to ensure that they do not injure themselves if they were to panic. More dogs escape home during the Fourth of July than any other time of the year, so make sure that all doors and gates are secure. Also, make sure your dog is microchipped in case of an escape during a panic.
We have some success with Thundershirts or Anxiety Wraps. These are snug-fitting vests that squeeze and apply pressure over the body that many dogs find comforting. Your veterinarian might recommend a pheromone product that comes as a collar, room diffuser or spray. That pheromone is appeasing to dogs and helps reduce anxiety.
We also now have an FDA-approved medication that is labeled and advertised to reduce noise aversions. It inhibits anxiety by blocking the release of norepinephrine. We have been using this medication more and more with great results. It would be a good idea to talk to your veterinarian about a comprehensive “fireworks” plan.
Q: I’ve heard that gum is toxic to dogs. Is that true?
A: If the gum is sugarless and contains xylitol, it is absolutely true! Xylitol is a sugar substitute that is found in many human foods and dental products. We see it most commonly in gum, but it can also be found in breath mints, baked goods and sugar-free desserts, vitamins, over-the-counter medicines, dietary supplements and much more … even ice cream! Since xylitol can be used as a sugar substitute, we see it used very often in products that claim to have “reduced sugar” or are “diabetic-friendly.” It is best to read the ingredients, especially of your gum and mints, and keep them away from your pets.
Xylitol can cause toxicity in several ways. The first and most common is by dangerously lowering your dog’s blood sugar. In humans, xylitol is safe because it does not cause the pancreas to release insulin. But in dogs, xylitol can cause an extreme overreaction from the pancreas that releases toxic levels of insulin into the blood. That insulin dramatically lowers a dog’s blood sugar and can cause lethargy, seizures, weakness, incoordination and collapse. This can happen within 30 minutes after ingestion and even small amounts can be toxic. If a suspected ingestion were to occur, it is an immediate emergency and vital to call your veterinarian.
Xylitol is a double threat because it can also cause liver failure. So even if a dog gets quick lifesaving treatment for the effects of low blood sugar, we need to watch out for any liver damage that could occur later. We monitor for that with blood testing at certain intervals to ensure your dog is safe.
Xylitol is very dangerous to dogs and thought to be more than 100 times more toxic than chocolate. We have been seeing it used more frequently, too. We used to think of it as only in food or dental products, but it has been popping up in more products than ever before, such as baby wipes, cosmetics, body/face care products and even clothing.
Dogs are social creatures and your presence is comforting. Dogs will respond to situations that are potentially scary to them by watching their owners’ actions and emotions. Be calm, supportive, and snuggly.
Drs. Josh and Marya Teders are the owners of NorthArlington Animal Clinic in Upper Arlington, Ohio. To ask them a question, email Becky Kover ([email protected]) and put pet question in the subject line.