Its firework season again! Although great for most people, fireworks can be very scary for our pets. Dogs, cats and horses can be severely affected by the nose from fireworks and it is important they are kept safe.
In a 2005 study done by Bristol University, it was reported that 49% of dogs were fearful of loud noises. 85% were fearful of fireworks, 65% of thunder and 30% fearful of gunshots with a large degree of overlap between these noises. The severity of the fear differed between animal as expected and was graded on a scale of mild, moderate and severe. Only 4% of dogs spontaneously get better and improve with time so the remaining 96% remain fearful of loud noises and often this gets worse with time.
A questionnaire, ‘Sound Sensitivity Questionnaire”, has been developed by two leading animal behaviour experts and is available to complete at www.adaptil.com . This 5 minute questionnaire will show how severely affected you dog is to noise and will produce a personalised report for you to take to your vet along with some simple tips and advice on how to help your pet.
But what can we do at home? Make sue your pet is kept in a safe and secure environment. Take him/her for a walk on a lead well before the fireworks are due to start and make sure doors and gates are closed. Keep curtains and windows closed to reduce noise and play the TV or radio at a reasonable volume to try and block out the noise from the fireworks.
Make a hiding place/den for your dog. Ideally this is made 2-3 weeks prior to the noise event but can be done at any time. This den should be somewhere the dogs feels comfortable and may be in a crate, under a table or behind the sofa. It should be somewhere the dog has access to all the time as fireworks may be set off when no one is at home. Some dogs may want a covered area others may not. Provide a bed with plenty of covers/jumpers for your dog to bury itself in. Try to train your dog to go to the hiding place on command using treats etc.
How should you react? Don’t punish your dog as this will only make things worse. Don’t sooth your dog either, as this will only make them more dependant on you when noise occurs, so they will not be able to cope when you are not there. React normally as if there were no extra noise. Reward your dog when it comes out from its hiding place only when it is relaxed. However do not ignore your dog completely.
There is a distinct timeline involved in treatment for any noise phobias especially when the time of the noise event is known (eg bonfire night). Long term treatment needs to be instigated 2-3 months before the event to stand any chance of success. As we get nearer to the event then behaviour modification is unlikely to work and short term drug therapy will be needed for severely affected dogs.
Medications that can be used include some ‘over the counter’ herbal remedies that are available form your vet or pet shop. Many of these, although useful in mildly affected dogs, have not been scientifically trialed so effects can vary between dogs. Adaptil pheromone plug in adaptors or collars may be useful and have shown significant improvements in trials. Your vet will also have a range of more powerful drugs that can be prescribed for short term use. These are however prescription only medications so a visit to the vets for an examination will undoubtedly be required before they can be dispensed – this is a legal requirement for this class of drug.
Long term medication may be needed for some dogs that are severely affected by noise phobias but these need to be given for 2-3 months before they are effective and may make things worse in the first 2-3 weeks ( a similar pattern is seen in anti-depressant use in humans ). Short term medication may also be needed for these dogs at certain times if the noise is loud enough (eg bonfire night).
Desensitisation to noise is possible but takes months to achieve and requires a lot of commitment form owners to work. It is best done in conjunction with your vet but the resources are available free of charge on the dogs trust website www.dogstrust.org.uk .
In conclusion, noise can be distressing for your dog and fireworks in particular seem to be a major problem. However, with judicious planning and consultation with your Veterinary team it is possible to provide a safe environment for your dog and reduce the fear associated with fireworks so everyone can have an enjoyable bonfire night.