Is Your Dog Scared of Fireworks?
Assess your dog's sensitivity to noises with this handy questionnaire.
It is estimated that approximately 45 per cent of dogs become stressed and fearful while fireworks are going off, yet many owners are unaware of how to help their pets with firework fears and the precautions that can be taken to help them cope with their fear of loud noises.
Signs of anxiety in dogs include:
- trembling and shaking
- licking of lips
- chewing objects
- clinging to owners
- cowering and hiding
- unable to settle
- trying to dig
- barking excessively
- urinating or defecating
What can dog owners do to help their pet?
An important step is to ensure the dog has a safe haven or den to retreat to in the home; an area that they feel secure in. Ideally this should be in an internal room that is easily accessible and away from windows. The den can be a place that the dog already uses and adapted to be as comfortable, dark and quiet as possible, or a manmade temporary option such as a cardboard box or crate. Preparing a den in advance allows the dog to get used to the area and accept it as a safe place. Whatever format of den is chosen it is also advisable to use towels and/or blankets to cover the area to dim the sounds and lights of the fireworks and ensure the dog has access to the den at all times (even when the owner is not at home).
The dog appeasing pheromone Adaptil® has been shown to reduce anxiety and help dogs cope with challenging situations, including firework events. Adaptil is easy to use and it is available as a diffuser, collar and spray. It reduces the intensity of the dog’s fear response and should be used alongside other measures to manage or treat sound sensitivities, such as building a den. Using an Adaptil diffuser or collar from October can help to combat any build up of anxiety the dog experiences in the run up to the fireworks event.
For support in a dog immediately before an expected firework event the collar or spray will start to provide support quickly. There are also nutraceutical options which can start to provide support quickly in these situations, such as Adaptil Express tablets which should be administered two hours before the expected fireworks. There are also anxiety wraps available which an owner can apply to the dog prior to the fireworks event. It is important to remember that a product’s ability to reduce fear responses may be reduced if the dog is already anxious.
Further tips for dog owners
- Ensure dogs are taken out for a walk/to the toilet before it gets dark to avoid the need to be taken out later during the fireworks
- Soothing or punishing the dog may increase the intensity of the experience or reward inappropriate behaviour. Instead consider distracting them with a chew, toy, puzzle feeder or a game. Having a meal before the fireworks start can also help as a dog may not want to eat during the event if they are too anxious
- Ensure the dog has access to their water bowl as anxious dogs can pant more
- Keep curtains closed, have the TV or music on and keep the dog company
- Dogs with a more severe reaction to noises should be taken to the vet, as it may be that they need medication in order to cope with the firework season
- Be aware that older dogs may find fireworks more challenging than they have before, as they can start to find changes to routine difficult. Alternatively, those dogs which start to develop hearing loss as they age can find fireworks easier to cope with.
Long term support
In the long term, desensitisation and counter conditioning have been shown to be safe and effective methods for treating sound sensitivities; the ‘Sound Scary’ CD (also available on iTunes) is a good home tool to recommend for customers. However, the dog needs to be relaxed during this training, which means that it needs to be done after the party fireworks season has passed. Support throughout the process is recommended and a referral to a qualified behaviourist may be necessary.
Exposing puppies to many different stimuli during their socialisation period can help prevent fears in adult life. There is a different version of the sounds recording which can help with this process – Sounds Sociable. This recording has a variety of noises a puppy may experience in adult life, such as fireworks, thunderstorms, babies crying etc. Exposing a puppy to these sounds gradually using the recordings can help the puppy associate these sounds with part of everyday life.
What about cats?
Cat are not thought to develop sound sensitivities as dogs do, however they will be frightened by the loud bangs and flashes of fireworks. Therefore, during the firework season, owners are advised to keep their cats indoors. This change in routine and confinement to the home can sometimes cause cats to become upset and show unwanted behaviours such as urine marking, inter-cat tension and vertical scratching.
Owners can help their cats cope with these changes by providing enough litter trays throughout the house and ensuring all of the cats in the household have safe places to hide in. These are often are up high, for example on the top of cupboards, but could also be under a bed or in a box. Once a cat has found a safe spot for the night, leave it alone and do not try to coax it out, as this refuge is where it feels most secure. Plugging a Feliway® diffuser into the room where a cat spends most of its time or where its safe place is, at least 48 hours before the festivities begin, will help to ensure it feels as safe and secure as possible. There is also a Feliway spray which can be applied to a cat’s bedding on the night of the event to provide additional support.
What about other pets?
Small animals and birds all need to be treated with special care as these animals are easily frightened. Hutches, cages and enclosures should, if possible, be brought into a quiet room indoors, or into a garage or shed. Providing extra bedding for them to burrow down in can help the pet feel more secure. Aviaries should be covered with thick blankets to block out the sight and sound of the fireworks, but care should be taken to ensure there is enough ventilation in the aviary.
Horses and ponies
Fireworks must not be set off near livestock or horses in fields, or close to buildings housing livestock. Anyone planning a firework display in a rural area should warn neighbouring farmers in advance and the fireworks should be set off in the opposite direction to their field and well away from them. Horses should be kept to their normal routine and can be left in their field so long as it is safe, secure and not near the fireworks display area. ConfidenceEQ® can be administered half an hour before the fireworks start to go off to provide reassurance. ConfidenceEQ lasts for 2.5 hours and it can be re-administered, if required.
Fireworks can be difficult for many pets to cope with but there is a lot that can be done to support them through this troubling period. For further information please contact Westmorland Vets on 01539 722692 or visit www.adaptil.com/uk or www.feliway.com/uk.