Helping your pets cope with fireworks

Autumn is the season for fireworks – which can be a common source of stress to your pets. Around 50% of dogs show some fear of fireworks studies have shown.

If your dog is fearful of fireworks they may display signs such as panting, trembling, restlessness, salivating, hiding, freezing, destructiveness, toileting inappropriately. Firework phobias get worse after each experience unfortunately, and do also worsen with age. Treatments are available to help your pet, so if your pet has experienced any of these symptoms in the past, then it is important to seek advice from one of our vets as early as possible.

The first step is to take your pet to get a full physical exam and health check carried out by a vet. This is important to check for any underlying medical conditions that could affect your dog’s ability to cope, or could exacerbate a fear of loud noises, for example joint pain, as sudden noises can result in muscle tension – which can exacerbate pain.

The following tips may help your pets cope with fireworks:

Create a safe and cosy den for your dog

– This should be in an area where your dog already chooses to hide when fearful, which may or may not be it’s usual bed or resting place. Some dogs like to dig and hide when scared so provide lots of bedding eg, old towels or blankets. They should have 24/7 access to leave or enter their den as they wish. This gives them a sense of control, and promotes confidence to spend increasing amounts of time outside of the den during fireworks. The most important thing is to make sure the den is well established several weeks prior to exposure to fireworks to allow your dog to develop a strong positive association with it – encourage and train your dog to enjoy and settle in the den, try activity feeders and chews. Talk to your vet or vet nurse about calming aids

– There are many types of calming aid available, plug in diffusers, collars and sprays etc that release dog-appeasing pheromones which increase their capability to relax and to help them to learn to cope. They should be plugged in in advance and placed in the area of the house where your dog spends the most time. Soundproof your home

– Close curtains and turn up the TV or radio during fireworks, to try and reduce the

impact of noises and flashes. Cover dens with a thick duvet. Keep your pets safe

– Keep your pets indoors – ensure windows, doors, dog/cat flaps are closed. Scared dogs will sometimes try to bolt. It is also sensible to ensure that your pet is microchipped and your contact details registered to the microchip are up to date. Walk your pets earlier in the day before it gets dark.

Feeding

– Try feeding your pet a little earlier than usual, a full up tummy can help them relax. Don’t ignore your dog

– if your dog is seeking attention or reassurance, then give it. Fear is an emotion and cannot be reinforced. Receiving reassurance can reduce their stress levels in the short term and help them cope with the fearful event, and ignoring a frightened dog that is seeking dependence on you may cause them further distress. Provide them the reassurance, as much as they need to get through the fireworks season – then look to modify their coping strategy. Do NOT rely on reassurance to comfort a dog in the long term, as this may lead to the development of separation anxiety. Medication

– Medication may be used in the short term to reduce acute responses to fireworks and to reduce their memory of the event but should be used alongside long-term support from a qualified veterinary behaviourist. Sedatives should not be relied upon in the long term, many have potential side effects, especially in older animals, and often will stop your pet from showing outward signs of trembling etc but they will still be aware of what’s going on, so they are still scared but just unable to react. This can actually make them more fearful and could perpetuate the problem. Request referral to a specialist veterinary behaviourist

– A qualified behaviourist will be able to tailor an individual treatment plan including counter conditioning and desensitisation, and be able to provide ongoing support. This will be a commitment and require perseverance, and should be organised well ahead of firework season but is the key to helping your pet in the long term.

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