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By Lakeside Veterinary Surgery  |  Posted: September 07, 2012



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Lakeside Veterinary Surgery

14b Valley Way

Swansea Enterprise Park


01792 774457






Our pets are bombarded by sounds from our hectic

environment, and despite the extra sensitivity of their ears they generally

cope reasonably well. However, many remain sensitive to sounds that are heard

only occasionally and one of the most common noise phobias seen in pets is to



The approach of Bonfire Night used to foretell the explosion

of fireworks on one evening, with the occasional pop or bang the night before

as excited children 'tried a few out'. But over recent years fireworks can be

heard for two weeks either side of Bonfire Night. Added to this is the

increasing popularity of the use of fireworks to celebrate New Year, Weddings

and other special events, and you have created your pet's worst nightmare –

unpredictable, loud, scary noises.


Most dog owners are aware of their dog's anxiety on Bonfire

Night as our relationship with our dogs means that their distress is

distressing for us to watch, but we often forget that cats, rabbits and horses

are equally prone to this debilitating fear, yet their anxiety is often



The behaviour that we find so distressing to watch is our

pet's response to fear. They are attempting to flee from the noise and to find

a safe hiding place where they feel free from threat. This response is

perfectly natural as it forms part of the pet's coping strategy, yet our

immediate response is to interfere, interrupt and try to pacify and prevent the

response and this is probably the worst thing that we can do for our pet. It is

extremely important that they are allowed access to a safe den and are allowed

to stay there undisturbed until they feel sufficiently confident to come out.


If our pets are to cope with events like firework night with

the minimum of fear and stress, we as owners will need to make preparations

from about two weeks beforehand.





If a worried dog has a readily available hide-out in the

house he will head for this at the first sound of a firework and stay there

until he considers it safe to emerge – the den that your dog chooses may not be

the one that you would select, he is most likely to want to hide under the

stairs, in the small bathroom, behind a chair, under a bed or in a cupboard.

This is his coping strategy and you should not interfere with it; but you can

make this area more suitable for your pet with a few simple modifications. If a

suitable den is not available you will notice that the dog pants, paces,

salivates and may make attempts to escape. Less affected dogs may tremble, pace

and follow their owner about. You will need to create somewhere for such dogs

to hide, preferably a room that is naturally quiet and is located in the centre

of the house with few windows.


Concerned owners may visit their veterinary surgeons to

request a sedative, but the traditional tablet prescribed – acetyl promazine

acts as a chemical straight jacket, locking the fully conscious and aware dog

in a body that no longer responds to its desperate need to hide – a sure way of

ensuring that a nervous dog becomes a phobic dog. Another problem with this

preparation is that the dog may be disinhibited and prone to a startle

response, so that if owners approach and try to interact with their pet he may

show totally out of character aggression towards them. Consequently it may be

best to avoid this medication. There are other preparations available and I

would suggest that you discuss these with your vet, aiming for preparations

that inhibit the formation of memories of the fearful event – although the dog

will experience the fear and behave as before and owners need to be aware of

this. Most dogs will benefit from a DAP diffuser placed near to the den. As

before you may see the dog carrying out its normal coping strategies, but it

should prevent the dog's fear from progressing into phobia.


On the long-term a qualified and experienced behaviourist

will be able to help you ensure that your pet overcomes its fear, but this

needs to be done over a period of months when the pet receives no unplanned

exposure to fireworks – in this area you should be aiming for after New Year.


As it is too late to cure the phobia for this year, here are

some suggestions to help your dog with this year's firework season:


  1. Never

    punish your pet for being scared, it only confirms its idea that the

    situation is really scary; and unless it or anyone else is in danger never

    try to interfere with your dog's chosen coping strategy – if it is really

    anxious it may bite.

  2. Don't

    fuss or try to reassure the dog when it is frightened (so don't get under

    the bed with it) – it only confirms that there is something to be scarred


  3. Try

    to ignore your dog's behaviour but make a fuss of him when he returns to


  4. Start

    watching your dog and see where he likes to go when he is worried; if he

    doesn't have a special place choose a suitable room and use the quietest

    corner and several weeks before the firework season is about to start in

    your area make this place into a den and encourage your dog to use it. A

    large cardboard box placed over his bed will work well. Place blankets

    over it to sound proof it and place old blankets inside for him to dig

    into when frightened. Add an old woolly jumper belonging to the family to

    help to make the den smell familiar – if possible, use two items, keeping

    one with your soiled linen & swapping them each day. Place treats in

    there and encourage him to use it. Try to make sure that it is in a corner

    of two internal walls so that sound from outside is muffled.

  5. During

    the two weeks before firework night, get your dog used to going into his

    den two to three times a day and ensure that there are always tasty treats

    to be found in there.

  6. On

    the night, place a few tasty chews in the bed along with a fresh, old and

    smelly jumper! Try to take your dog to the den room before the fireworks


  7. Dogs

    often pant when they are anxious or fearful and they can become thirsty.

    Provide bowls of water, and should your dog be sufficiently relaxed to eat

    some food is useful. Try to ensure that your dog has emptied his bladder

    before you go into the den.

  8. Ensure

    that your dog does not feel trapped by ensuring that the door of the room

    remains open. 

  9. Visit

    your veterinary surgeon about 2 weeks before the fireworks are due to

    start and purchase a DAP Diffuser. This is a pheromone that helps to calm

    the dog and alter its perceptions of novel events. Plug it in next to your

    dog's chosen safe den, but make sure that it's not behind furniture or the

    dog may damage things trying to get close to it. Continue to use the DAP

    for two weeks after the event. Zylkene can also be useful.

  10. As

    long as your dog isn't prone to diarrhoea when scarred, give him a

    carbohydrate rich meal with added vitamin B6 mid – late afternoon on each

    day that fireworks are likely. If necessary miss out his other meals to

    ensure that he has a good appetite for this.

  11. If

    your dog is likely to bolt when he hears a sudden noise, ensure that his

    environment is secure.

  12. Aim

    to minimise the amount of noise and light that the dog can detect. Close

    the windows and use heavy curtains. Start to blackout the room at sundown

    so that any preceding flash from the firework can't be seen, and keep

    plenty of things in there for yourself so that you don't have to leave

    your dog on his own.

  13. If

    your dog is used to you playing music choose some music with a constant

    distracting beat –it doesn't have to be too loud. This can help to mask

    the noises from outside. However if you know that your dog dislikes music

    this is not a good time to try to change his preferences.

  14. Try

    to pretend to ignore the noises yourself, and if possible distract the dog

    with a game. If a friend's dog is comfortable with fireworks, get them to

    visit as this may encourage your dog to join in the games.

  15. Use

    earplugs made from damp, well squeezed cotton wool. Roll it into a long

    cylinder (not too thin) and gently but firmly pack the ear canal,

    remembering to remove it at the end and to use fresh plugs the next night.

  16. If

    you have to go outside with your dog, ensure that it can't bolt and escape

    by keeping it on a leash or in securely fenced areas.

  17. DON'T






A cat's natural response to fear is to flee, but many cats

are far more passive in their responses but just as fearful. Try to keep your

cat in from sundown, getting it used to a den made from a smaller box, arranged

as above. Try to place this at a height on a cupboard or shelf. With the

exception of the games and ear plugs, all of the above can be applied for cats,

and instead of a DAP diffuser, ask your vet for a Feliway Diffuser, made to

imitate the cat's facial pheromones that it rubs onto items when it is feeling





As prey animals to whom any scary noises indicate that they

may be about to become a take-away meal for the local fox, dog or cat, firework

night can be terrifying. As their natural response to fear is to hide and

freeze they will need lots of material to dig into if they are going to be able

to cope. Try to bring any hutches indoors into a quiet inner room, garage or

shed and provide lots of bedding. If you can't bring the hutch inside turn it

to face the wall. Either way, use old blankets or a duvet to exclude the sound

and flashes and if possible provide extra soundproofing by surrounding the

hutch with bales of straw or hay.




Horses are flight animals and can become extremely fearful

and dangerous to handle in loud noises. Remove horses from fields within the

vicinity of firework displays to as quiet an area as possible. If possible

stable them and close the top doors. If they will tolerate the use of earplugs

these will help. Don't try to tie the horse up.




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