Lakeside Veterinary Surgery
14b Valley Way
Swansea Enterprise Park
PETS THAT HATE BUMPSIN THE NIGHT
Our pets are bombarded by sounds from our hecticenvironment, and despite the extra sensitivity of their ears they generallycope reasonably well. However, many remain sensitive to sounds that are heardonly occasionally and one of the most common noise phobias seen in pets is tofireworks.
The approach of Bonfire Night used to foretell the explosionof fireworks on one evening, with the occasional pop or bang the night beforeas excited children 'tried a few out'. But over recent years fireworks can beheard for two weeks either side of Bonfire Night. Added to this is theincreasing popularity of the use of fireworks to celebrate New Year, Weddingsand 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 BonfireNight as our relationship with our dogs means that their distress isdistressing for us to watch, but we often forget that cats, rabbits and horsesare equally prone to this debilitating fear, yet their anxiety is oftenoverlooked.
The behaviour that we find so distressing to watch is ourpet's response to fear. They are attempting to flee from the noise and to finda safe hiding place where they feel free from threat. This response isperfectly natural as it forms part of the pet's coping strategy, yet ourimmediate response is to interfere, interrupt and try to pacify and prevent theresponse and this is probably the worst thing that we can do for our pet. It isextremely important that they are allowed access to a safe den and are allowedto stay there undisturbed until they feel sufficiently confident to come out.
If our pets are to cope with events like firework night withthe minimum of fear and stress, we as owners will need to make preparationsfrom about two weeks beforehand.
If a worried dog has a readily available hide-out in thehouse he will head for this at the first sound of a firework and stay thereuntil he considers it safe to emerge – the den that your dog chooses may not bethe one that you would select, he is most likely to want to hide under thestairs, 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 canmake this area more suitable for your pet with a few simple modifications. If asuitable den is not available you will notice that the dog pants, paces,salivates and may make attempts to escape. Less affected dogs may tremble, paceand follow their owner about. You will need to create somewhere for such dogsto hide, preferably a room that is naturally quiet and is located in the centreof the house with few windows.
Concerned owners may visit their veterinary surgeons torequest a sedative, but the traditional tablet prescribed – acetyl promazine –acts as a chemical straight jacket, locking the fully conscious and aware dogin a body that no longer responds to its desperate need to hide – a sure way ofensuring that a nervous dog becomes a phobic dog. Another problem with thispreparation is that the dog may be disinhibited and prone to a startleresponse, so that if owners approach and try to interact with their pet he mayshow totally out of character aggression towards them. Consequently it may bebest to avoid this medication. There are other preparations available and Iwould suggest that you discuss these with your vet, aiming for preparationsthat inhibit the formation of memories of the fearful event – although the dogwill experience the fear and behave as before and owners need to be aware ofthis. Most dogs will benefit from a DAP diffuser placed near to the den. Asbefore you may see the dog carrying out its normal coping strategies, but itshould prevent the dog's fear from progressing into phobia.
On the long-term a qualified and experienced behaviouristwill be able to help you ensure that your pet overcomes its fear, but thisneeds to be done over a period of months when the pet receives no unplannedexposure 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 aresome suggestions to help your dog with this year's firework season:
- 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.
- 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 of.
- Try to ignore your dog's behaviour but make a fuss of him when he returns to normal.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 start.
- 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.
- Ensure that your dog does not feel trapped by ensuring that the door of the room remains open.
- 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.
- 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.
- If your dog is likely to bolt when he hears a sudden noise, ensure that his environment is secure.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- DON'T IGNORE THE PROBLEM JUST BECAUSE IT ONLY HAPPENS IRREGULARLY.
A cat's natural response to fear is to flee, but many catsare far more passive in their responses but just as fearful. Try to keep yourcat in from sundown, getting it used to a den made from a smaller box, arrangedas above. Try to place this at a height on a cupboard or shelf. With theexception 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 toimitate the cat's facial pheromones that it rubs onto items when it is feelingrelaxed.
RABBITS AND SMALL FURRIES
As prey animals to whom any scary noises indicate that theymay be about to become a take-away meal for the local fox, dog or cat, fireworknight can be terrifying. As their natural response to fear is to hide andfreeze they will need lots of material to dig into if they are going to be ableto cope. Try to bring any hutches indoors into a quiet inner room, garage orshed and provide lots of bedding. If you can't bring the hutch inside turn itto face the wall. Either way, use old blankets or a duvet to exclude the soundand flashes and if possible provide extra soundproofing by surrounding thehutch with bales of straw or hay.
Horses are flight animals and can become extremely fearfuland dangerous to handle in loud noises. Remove horses from fields within thevicinity of firework displays to as quiet an area as possible. If possiblestable them and close the top doors. If they will tolerate the use of earplugsthese will help. Don't try to tie the horse up.