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Balloon Fiesta do’s, don’ts for scared pets

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Balloon Fiesta is great fun for us, but it’s not much of a party for pets who freak out from those cosmic monsters leering and looming over them. The far-off hiss of a propane burner or a multi-colored speck in the distance can trigger overwhelming terror.

There’s nothing logical about phobias. Dogs with this irrational fear haven’t been physically assaulted by balloons, but, like humans with unfounded anxieties, they need special consideration. Hiding, trembling, and nervous panting indicate real misery.

Simple avoidance will reduce the risk of a balloon-phobic dog’s head inflating into a special shape. Let him outside for his morning constitutional early – before the space aliens launch.

Prevent an indoor mind-bending experience by lowering the blinds and playing classical music. A noisy fan or recordings of white, pink, or brown noise may also help.

Some nervous Nellies can be distracted with games. Obedience commands can shift her focus to earning interactions and food rewards.

Some dogs become hypervigilant, standing warily in the doorway, scanning the sky before venturing into the perilous territory of their own backyards. You can diminish this problem by making the multicolored UFOs difficult for your scared dog to recognize. A comfortable face covering, called a Thunder Cap, reduces distance vision and maybe the heebie-jeebies, too.

Here is what not to do: Don’t force a wigged-out pet outside to “face her fears.” Overwhelming panic can only intensify the terror that a dog associates with those sights and sounds. Avoid the tranquilizer acepromazine. This drug sedates, but does little to reduce anxiety.

There is better living through modern chemistry. Freaked-out pets can take trazodone, a prescription anti-anxiety medication, every eight to 12 hours.

Less severe cases may do fine with shorter acting alprazolam or lorazepam (safer for cats). A new medication called Sileo is intended specifically for noise phobias. Available in a gel, you can place it between your dog’s lower lip and gum.

These are effective medications that can be safely used together to reduce an important threat to animal welfare. Take control right from the get-go to prevent this problem from worsening every year. Your veterinarian can prescribe the right treatment.

Dr. Jeff Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). He provides medical care for pets at the Petroglyph Animal Hospital (898-8874). Questions? For answers, Like my Facebook page at or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109.