We are fast approaching fireworks season and for many dogs and cats this can be a terrifying time of year. The noise of fireworks can generate severe anxiety and distress for pets and owners. Many dogs can even progress to a point where they end up hurting themselves to try and escape the noise.
For many pets the fear created from fireworks is only the starting point. Overtime the fear ‘highways’ in the brain get wider and wider with each bad experience. New ‘on-ramps’ develop as well so what started as fear of fireworks can extend to gun shots, loud music, lawnmowers as well as other behavioural problems like separation anxiety.
Dealing with anxiety to fireworks needs to be done early to increase the chance of success. Now is the perfect time to start looking at fixing these fears before fireworks season starts.
Like most problems a long term fix is better than a short term bandaid!!
How to help a dog with fireworks anxiety
- If your pet is scared of fireworks avoid having fireworks at home. Go to public displays or somewhere away from home eg a friend’s house.
- Make sure your pet has a way to escape the noise. When pets are trapped and in fear they often develop fears to other things that were around them at the time. Your pet may choose its own area but you can create a safe space for them.
- Choose a quiet area of the house away from windows and the direction the noise is coming
- Provide a crate or cardboard box with an open front they can hide in
- Lots of blankets will give them something to hide under and also dampen the noise
- Keep the amount of light in the area low
- Soft music played can reduce the intensity of the noise and help your pet settle
There are a number of ways we can help.
Desensitising pets to loud noises is the best long term treatment option. The aim is to teach them slowly that these sounds aren’t scary and replace them with good experiences. There are a few ways to do this, generally by getting them used to low levels of the noises and slowly increasing the intensity.
Adaptil (previously DAP) is a pheromone collar/spray/diffuser that helps reduce anxiety in dogs. Feliway is the cat alternative. This is a great product to use either as a diffuser in the area they will hide, as a spray in that area or our favourite, the collar. The best thing about the collar is that wherever they go the relaxing pheromone goes too.
This is a natural option that helps the pet feel more comfortable and relaxed in their environment. We use this in clinic and notice a big difference with how relaxed pets are.
ThunderShirts are another great option. The shirt creates pressure over the chest which reduces anxiety. The principle was developed by Temple Grandin, the professor who created the “hug box” to help children with autism. They are a great option as they have no side effects and can be put on immediately. Quinn will seek his out when he hears fireworks and sits beside it, waiting for us to put it on.
Calmex is another natural medication option for cats and dogs. It is based around amino acids and B Vitamins.
Behavioural medication is often needed in these patients. The fear highways in the brain will continue to develop if the problem isn’t treated, creating a snowball effect.
Short term medication will help when you know there is going to be a time of loud noises e.g. Guy Fawkes night. They reduce anxiety and help pets cope better with the noise. They generally take an hour to be effective so need to be used at least an hour beforehand.
Longer term medication is very useful to help training. On its own it will not solve the problem. It aims to help reduce anxiety so pets can learn and desensitise to fear whether it be loud noises or something else. Once the training has been successful these medications are slowly stopped.
Here at the clinic we can give you individual advice on what is best for your pet for now and the future. Although short term medication is useful, if we can change anxiety for good then your pet will be healthier and happier.
At the clinic I do one on one behavioural work including noise anxieties, aggression, barking and other problems. Each case is different and I tailor a plan for each individual. Now is the time to act to help your pet cope with fireworks season or any other behavioural issue.