Fireworks night – not just the 5th November:
Many of our pets are scared of sudden loud noises – from thunder to fireworks. This is a natural response to a potentially dangerous event, but when it becomes a full blown phobia it is unpleasant and potentially dangerous for both owner and pet.
Dogs may tremble, try to hide, destroy things, or try to escape, in a “fight or flight” response. What can we do to help? Firstly it obviously is best to prevent your pet becoming fearful as “prevention is better than cure”. This is best with a puppy, or young dog who has not had a previous bad experience. With an older/rescue dog there are slightly different techniques to use to try to make the experience less stressful. Most animals get gradually worse with age (until they start to go deaf!), so it is important to try to help prevent this.
Exercise early before fireworks start for the evening
Pets should be microchipped, so if they escape they can be traced more easily.
Close doors and windows, and draw curtains, and turn light on, to muffle the sounds and minimise flashes of light.
Stay with your pet, but be calm and relaxed. DO NOT make a big deal out of reassuring your pet or show any anger – read a book, watch television, or sit and have a conversation with the radio playing. If your dog comes over to you it is ok to give them a quiet stroke, then stop and return to what you were doing. This should reassure them this is nothing to worry about.
Provide a hide-away area or den. It should be enclosed and have lots of soft bedding, to absorb some of the sound If this is what they choose, try to remain quietly nearby if you can. Being there and being relaxed is a great help.
Techniques for older dogs/those who are already nervous:
Sounds Scary CD – these are CD’s of “scary” noises such as thunder and fireworks which you play at a low level initially gradually working up to full volume to try to desensitise your pet to the noise, and make it part of normal everyday life – ideally this needs to be started a long way in advance of fireworks night. They come with a manual to walk you through the programme, and advice as to when you may need further help from a behaviourist.
DAP – Dog Appeasing Pheromone can be very helpful. There are 3 formats, spray, diffuser, and collar. The collar and diffuser are probably the most useful for fireworks, and the pheromones released are similar to those released when suckling from the mother, and encourage a feeling of relaxation and calmness.
Zylkene is a milk based non-prescription food supplement. It is a peptide which can have a dramatic calming effect, and can be given for the whole of the firework period, or for short periods of stress such as moving house etc.
Sedative drugs can be useful in severe cases, but most vets will ask you to try some of the gentler methods such as DAP/Zylkene first. You will need to see your vet for these drugs as they do have effects on the heart and breathing and they will want to be sure your pet is fit to take sedation. Their effects can be unpredictable, and the vet will often start at a very low dose, and work up gradually.
Vets can also provide contact details with qualified animal behaviour therapists, who might be able to help.