Bonfire night is fast approaching, and if your pet is afraid of loud noises then it is important to plan ahead to help them through what can be a very stressful time.
An estimated 45% of dogs in the UK show signs of fear when they hear fireworks. But cats and other small animals can also be affected by the noises. Although there is no magic cure for firework phobia, there is lots we can do to make fireworks less frightening for our pets.
Preparing for bonfire night….
– Identify a ‘safe haven’ area for your pet to retreat to. The area may be somewhere they have retreated to before, or you may choose somewhere where you feel there will be least exposure to the noises outside. Provide a bed here and some familiar unwashed bedding. Placing a piece of your own unwashed clothing here too can also help to provide reassuring scents. Get them used to using this area
– Start walking your dog early if possible and keep on a lead. Firework noise can be heard well in advance of the big night so keep this in mind
– Close windows and curtains at nightfall and put on the radio or TV to mask and muffle the sounds of any fireworks
– Provide extra bedding for small animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs to give them somewhere to hide – and consider bringing them inside in they live in an outdoor hutch
It’s better to make these preparations sooner rather than later given the unpredictability of the start of the firework season.
When the fireworks start….
– Encourage them to the safe area and provide toys and treats here but do not restrict them. Give them free run of the house to find somewhere to hide, and if they find an alternative area don’t try and coax them out – this can cause further stress.
– Ignore any fretful behaviour – this may be hard but over-fussing rewards fearful behavior, and can make the situation worse in the long run.
– Try and relax and stay calm, they can pick up on your anxiety.
Non-prescription: Pheromone therapy (Adaptil – dogs, Feliway – cats) or Calmex (Dogs and Cats). These products contain relaxing pheromones or natural based compounds to instill a sense of calm to your pet. They are to be used in conjunction with behavioural measures. Ideally start using these 2 weeks before the anticipated start of firework night to give the best results.
Prescription drugs: In the form of sedatives. They reduce anxiety and excitability but may not reduce fear. The effects are variable, and side effects possible. Animals treated with sedatives must not be left alone in the house. Seek early advice from one of our vets if you feel that these are needed.
The above advice is aimed at managing the immediate problems of firework phobias, but with planning you can reduce noise phobias in the long-term. Desensitising noise cd’s can be used according to a planned program over the course of several months, and if the noise phobia is severe or longstanding then the vet may suggest referral to a behaviorist for further help.