Firework Fear: Our Top Tips for Dog Owners
Although bonfire night is traditionally an evening of fun for the family, it is often a frightening and even dangerous night four our household pets. The loud bangs and bright flashes that accompany bonfire night are often a source of fear and anxiety for dogs, cats and other pets. The signs to look out for in your pet can range from the animal becoming withdrawn and quiet, often seeking a hiding place, right up to uncontrollable shaking, vocalisation and even inappropriate bladder or bowel elimination. Although these symptoms can be very alarming for the pet owner to witness and for the pet to experience, even the most fearful of pets can be helped with a combination of behavioural and medical treatment.
Firstly there are several simple points which can help your pet to stay calm and safe on the 5th of November:
- As much as possible, pre-plan! If you know your pet is frightened by noises avoid exposure as much as possible.
- Provide a den, or hiding place, where your dog can feel safe. Dogs like to hide where the noise is less, and they know better than you where it is quieter. So, if your dog has already selected a location, maybe you can allow him/her to use it. Make it darker and even quieter by throwing a thick blanket over the space, partially closing doors, or providing a big cardboard box. Place food treats and/or a favourite toy inside the den. Never lock your dog inside the den. Never physically remove them from the den; always allow them to come out of their own free will when they feel safe to do so.
- Increase your dog's feeling of security by plugging in an ADAPTIL pheromone diffuser as close to the den, or hiding place, as possible. Start using the diffuser several days before fireworks are expected. ADAPTIL pheromone collars also work really well.
- Avoid being outside with your dog during noisy events. Before anticipated fireworks events, walk your dog when it is still light outside. This allows your dog to toilet before fireworks noise makes him/ her too scared to go, leading to more distress and potential house soiling.
- Make sure all windows, doors and cat flaps are securely closed during fireworks night. This will reduce the chances of your pet escaping.
- A stodgy, high carbohydrate meal (with well cooked rice or pasta) given late in the afternoon may help your dog feel more sleepy.
- While fireworks are happening, try to ignore fearful behaviour, such as panting, shaking and whining. If possible, attempt to distract your dog with training tasks, new toys, play, tasty food treats or chews. Never tell them off for any "misbehaviour" based on fear- it will make it worse! If petting your dog calms them, then it's okay to do. Try to behave as normally towards them as possible and try not to react to any noise or flash yourself (e.g. by checking your pet's reaction) as that can make it worse for them.
- Draw curtains and switch on the TV to mask the noise from the fireworks or storms. Again, try to behave as normal. Don't put the radio/TV on very loud, or you risk adding to the noise burden.
- Don’t leave your pets alone when fireworks are occurring. Pets will be more relaxed when they have a familiar person with them during this scary time.
- For those pets who have a more severe phobia, there are herbal, pheromone and dietary supplement options available to aid in the reduction of fear and anxiety. All of these products are stocked at all four branches of Valley Vets and a nurse will be happy to discuss the best treatment for your pet.
- Sedatives are not recommended in the treatment of firework phobias for two reasons, firstly for the possible side effects which your pet could experience and secondly because the animal never learns to deal with the phobia if they are sedated every time they encounter its source.
Although the above options can help at short notice with firework phobia's, the only real 'cure', comes in the form of a behavioural treatment known as a desensitisation programme. This is where the pet is exposed to the sound of fireworks at a very low and gradually increasing level. This allows the animal to learn to ignore the sound as it is not actually a physical threat to them. A desensitisation programme is individual to each pet's needs and takes months to complete. A good time to start this behavioural therapy would be after bonfire night, so that the pet is completely desensitised by the following year. For mild cases of noise phobia, the Dogs Trust have audio files available free on their website for you to download and use www.dogstrust.org.uk. Severe cases must be referred to a behavioural specialist before attempting a Noise Desensitization Programme.