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Fireworks and Phobias

Advice for nervous pets

Tips to keep your pets calm

The majority of us love Bonfire night. The roaring fire, treacle toffee and of course the colourful, loud fireworks. For many pets however, Bonfire night can be very scary with 80% of pet owners owning a dog that shows a fear response to fireworks.

It is not always necessary to sedate your dog for fireworks night; even with older dogs it is possible to rehabilitate them so they no longer have a fearful response to fireworks.

Preparation for the firework season should ideally start 2-3 months ahead so this may be helpful for next year or New Year!

•    Desensitisation – In the long term your dog needs to learn to be less afraid of loud noises. The ‘Sounds scary’ CD is now available which simulates the random and unpredictable noises of fireworks. The CD program should be started several weeks before November 5th and will help make the next firework season less stressful.  

•    Create a safe, comfortable and quiet area for your dog.  This can be as simple as a blanket over the back of chair, or the cupboard under the stairs, just remember to allow your pet to come and go to this area, do not lock them in.  If your dog prefers to hide under the table or bed then allow this, do not coax him out.  Do this a few weeks in advance to give your dog time to adjust and familiarise themselves. Train your dog to associate this area with positive experiences e.g. playing games, treats etc.

•    Adaptil – Dog appeasing pheromone comes as a plug in device or a collar which releases a calming scent into the air which only a dog can smell.  The plug-in should be placed in the room in which your dog spends most time, switched on 24 hours a day and started about 2 weeks prior to fireworks.

•    When dogs are noise phobic they will attempt to escape from the source of the sound. Some dogs will bolt if out on walks when fireworks go off so make sure he is wearing an ID tag or, better still, have him microchipped.

•    Zylkene and Kalm-aid are non-prescription supplements which can have a dramatic calming effect on some individuals and are worth trying before resorting to tranquillisers/sedatives, as they have no side effects.  It is best to start this a few days before expected fireworks and continued throughout.

•    If behavioural modifications have not worked for your pet, medications are available in the form of tranquillisers, but these should be used as a last resort and in more serious cases.  At least one trial dose must be administered to the animals at a quiet non-stressful time in order to assess the response to treatment. Occasionally some dogs may show aggression when treated with tranquillisers, this phenomenon is ‘aggression disinhibition’, this is why a trial dose is extremely important.

If firework night is upon you, here are some suggestions to help ease this stressful period:

  • Keep them in the house during the worst period.
  • Make sure you dog is well fed as this will help make him sleepy and relaxed.
  • Draw the curtains/blinds to keep out visual reminders of flashing lights.
  • Try to remain calm and relaxed yourself to convey the message that there is nothing to worry about.
  • Have some familiar calming music or the TV on to help block out some of the noise.
  • Take your dog for his work earlier in the evening to make sure he has been to the toilet before fireworks start. Try to tire you dog out ready for the evenings.
  • Do not pat/stroke in an attempt to soothe your dog if he is showing signs of stress.  This is an inadvertent positive reward for the behaviour that you don’t want!  Do not punish fearful behaviour either, as this will only intensify the fear. Take care to only reward the non-fearful behaviour that you want.

If you need any more information or advice, please contact the practice.