Does your pet suffer from Firework Fears?
Many pets dislike loud noises; however, for some this is far more profound and results in a noise-phobia: a pathological fear of loud bangs. Add to this the unfamiliar flashes in the sky and the rising excitement among the human members of the family and you have a “perfect storm” for a nervous dog or cat.
What are the risks to my pets when the fireworks are flying?
First and foremost, being terrified out of their skins! While dogs and cats don’t often die of fright, it’s miserable for them and can cause other major behavioural problems, such as urine spraying, defecation, and destruction.
In addition, a frightened animal will often try to escape the scary noises, and that can result in them going missing, or being injured. If unable to escape, they may even become aggressive towards people – it’s nothing personal, but they’re so scared they don’t know what to do with themselves!
OK, so how can I help them cope?
Unfortunately, there isn’t one simple answer! However, there are a number of different options, all of which are likely to help. Finding the right mix of solutions for your pet is something we’re more than happy to help with – we’d also recommend chatting to our nurse Allison, as she has a special interest in pet behaviour.
This is something you should start doing as early as possible, as it takes weeks or months to work – but in most cases it is the most effective treatment for noise phobias. The principle is that you play (very, very quietly!) a recording of typical fireworks noises (or indeed any sounds that your pet finds unpleasant). You should then reward calm behaviour with a favourite food or toy. As time goes on, they become used to the sound, and you can very, very slowly turn up the volume over the following days, weeks or months. Eventually, they’re able to stay relaxed even when the noises are really loud – like in a genuine fireworks display.
These are natural scent markers that dogs and cats use to communicate, and are proven to reassure and reduce stress. These scents have been purified and are available commercially; we recommend Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats. Both are available as a spray or a diffuser for the house, kennel or cattery and Adaptil is also available as a medicated collar. They should be started at least two weeks before the stressful event, if possible, although they can work in a shorter time in many cases.
There are a wide range of calming products available for dogs and cats (NEVER use human calmers or tranquilisers, as they can be toxic to pets). Safe options include Calmex (a herbal product for dogs) and Zylkene (a product for cats and dogs based on milk protein). Although not proven to be effective, many vets and pet owners use them with good results.
On the night
It’s important not to reinforce frightened behaviour – if you make a huge fuss of your pet and pamper them and give them special treats when they look scared, they’ll soon learn how to manipulate you to get more treats and fuss! Rather, try to behave as normally as possible.
In addition, making sure your pet has a nice safe den or nest to hide away in is really important – somewhere they can go and feel safe. Then make sure your pets are indoors and all your doors, windows and cat flaps are securely shut! You don’t want to be chasing an errant pet across the city…
In severe cases, our vets can prescribe anti-anxiety medications such as diazepam. These should only be used sparingly, as they are highly addictive (yes, cats and dogs can become addicts) and stop working after a few days. However, they’re really useful for pets who just can’t cope when there’s a display right outside the window.
How do I find out more?
However, most importantly…
If you think your pet is going to find fireworks tough to deal with, give us a call and we’ll help!