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Remember remember your pet this November

Date: 26 October 2015  |  Author: Holly Sadler

Tags: anxietybehaviourfireworks

It’s that time of year again – Halloween, bonfire night, parties, fireworks.... But not every animal is joining in on the fun. For some of our pets, noisy fireworks can be a source of extreme stress and terror. It is worth thinking about and implementing certain supportive mechanisms to help your pet deal with the worry of it all now, and not one hour before the local firework display is about to start.

 

 Throughout the build up to November 5th and continuing through until New Year we as vets are seeing an increased number of animals traumatised by fireworks and loud noises. If left unaddressed, mild firework fears often progress to become more serious noise phobias. Noise phobias can lead to sudden and excessive responses to even the slightest noises, and are hard to manage. It is therefore better to address and treat firework phobias early on.

Dogs and cats have better hearing than humans and have the ability to hear bangs and whistles before we even know they are there.

 Signs of fearful behaviour include:

  • Submissive behaviour
  • Hiding away
  • Seeking closer human contact
  • Destructive behaviour due to panic
  • Whining / barking / shaking

 A FEW TIPS TO HELP YOU AND YOUR PET DEAL WITH THE 'FUN' OF FIREWORKS:

  • Keep animals inside houses well before dark and before the fireworks begin.
  • Close blinds and curtains, block off cat flaps, and shut all windows and doors. This will keep the noise to a minimum and prevent animals escaping.
  • Try to ignore fearful behaviour; reassuring your pet will be reinforcing the behaviour.
  • Playing music or having the television on may create a distraction: playing a familiar sound can reduce anxiety. Provide distractions such as toys and chews.
  • Ensure your pet has a traceable ID. Collars and tags can be easily read, but it is worth considering having a microchip inserted. This way your pet can be traced back to you and unlike a collar the chip cannot be removed.
  • Do not take dogs to firework displays. Although some dogs will not bark or show fear directly, be aware that panting and salivating may also indicate stress.
  • Do not walk dogs while fireworks are being let off. They may become scared and run away.
  • Do not shout at your dog for barking or showing fear, this will increase stress.

 THINGS THAT YOU CAN DO TO PREPARE FOR FIREWORK NIGHT:

  • Create a safe place for your pet where they feel secure and can retreat to when scared. This may be under a bed with familiar smells. Water should be available at all times.
  • In the 2-3 weeks preceding firework night, consider starting your pet on a natural non-prescription anti-anxiety to reduce stress levels and promote feelings of calm and security. These will be much less effective if started once fireworks have already begun. Options include:
  • Adaptil (DAP) – a synthetic copy of the natural appeasing pheromone the mother dog produces to comfort and reassure her puppies. Available as a spray, a plug-in diffuser and a collar.
  • Feliway – a synthetic cat pheromone used to create a feeling of comfort in the cat’s own territory. Comes in the form of a spray and a plug-in diffuser.
  • Pet Remedy – a natural blend of essential oils and Valerian to help calm any species. Used predominantly as a spray or a diffuser.
  • Zylkene – a casein product for dogs and cats, mimicking the calming effect produced by the mother’s milk. Comes in capsule form.
  • Consider trying a Thunder Shirt – similar to a dog jacket, it fits snugly to create that feeling of security, similar to swaddling an infant. It also increases the release of certain hormones such as oxytocin to help reduce anxiety.
  • Commence the Firework Desensitising Programme.

FIREWORK DESENSITISING PROGRAMME

The programme is not a ‘quick fix’ for your pet’s noise phobia.  You will need to be committed to helping your pet learn to cope with fireworks by gradually desensitising him to noises associated with fireworks, along side pheromone therapy. Ideally, the programme needs to be started a minimum of two months before the high-risk period e.g. November or New Year.

  The programme requires:

  1. A 20 - 30 minute appointment with a veterinary nurse to assess the problems which you and your pet have been experiencing in the past, and whether your pet would be suitable for the training programme.
  2. Information and training about the use of natural anxiolytics.
  3. Firework noise desensitisation programme and ‘Sounds’ CD, to be played regularly until the animal becomes more comfortable with the noises.

If the above have all been worked through and your dog is still fearful, please speak to your veterinary surgeon for more advice and treatment options. Prescription anti-anxieties or sedatives may be required.

SMALL PETS: RABBITS, GUINEA PIGS AND OTHER SMALL FURIES

  • If possible, bring hutches and aviaries inside to a quiet room.
  • Supply pets with extra bedding to burrow down into.
  • Cover any outside aviaries or rabbit hutches with a thick blanket if it cannot be moved.
  • Make sure there is enough ventilation.

About Dr Holly Sadler