Lakeside Veterinary Surgery
14b Valley Way
Swansea Enterprise Park
PETS THAT HATE BUMPS
IN THE NIGHT
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:
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.
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
to ignore your dog's behaviour but make a fuss of him when he returns to
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.
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.
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
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.
that your dog does not feel trapped by ensuring that the door of the room
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.
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.
your dog is likely to bolt when he hears a sudden noise, ensure that his
environment is secure.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
IGNORE THE PROBLEM JUST BECAUSE IT ONLY HAPPENS IRREGULARLY.
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
RABBITS AND SMALL FURRIES
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.