The nights are drawing in, and this brings warm hats, cold noses, and cosy nights by the fire. But for some pets, this time of year can be terrifying.
At this time of year, fireworks are legally sold to over 18s in shops and supermarkets all over the UK. As long as they aren’t set off between 11 pm and 7 am and are used on private property, there are no laws preventing them from being set off all day and well into the evening. For noise-anxious pets, the next few weeks can be a terrifying time, and it can be incredibly difficult for owners too, who often get no warning as to when fireworks will be set off.
Until fireworks are only used at registered events, or only silent fireworks are available for sale, this is a problem that pets and their owners are unfortunately going to have to live with. So what can you do?
The Best Option
The best (and only long-term) way to help a pet with noise phobia is to start on a program of desensitisation. This involves allowing the pet to experience the stimulus (a scary noise) in a non-threatening way (very, very quietly) so that they slowly build up a tolerance to the noise. Our fantastic team of nurses are on-hand to answer any questions you have about this, and can help you through the process, although for severe cases of phobia you’ll probably need the help of a qualified behaviourist (we can assess your pet and help you to find one!). The problem is, a noise desensitisation program takes weeks and weeks of work and - as much as possible - the pet shouldn’t experience the real fear (fireworks) during this time. So, this is really a project for after the New Year.
Things to do now...
In the meantime, here are some tips to try to make this next few weeks a little easier.
For mild levels of noise phobia
For example, pets that show fear but continue to eat or pets that may initially bark or hide but settle down as the fireworks go on.
- Look for posters and check Facebook for local events that might include fireworks over the Halloween and Bonfire Night weekends in order to prepare yourself for the major events.
- Talk to your neighbours, and plan ahead; politely ask that they let you know if they’re planning to set off fireworks so that you can ensure your pet is safe. It’s a good idea to print some slips with your request and contact details in case they’re not in.
- Check your pet’s microchip details are up to date, just in case they were to panic and escape. We can help you if you aren’t sure how to do this - just call our team.
- Talk to our team about using Adaptil (for dogs) or Feliway (for cats) - pheromone products designed to make a space feel ‘safe’ for pets.
- Talk to our team about calming supplements. The majority of these are ideally given a few days in advance and are safe to give for the entire period if necessary. Some work with as little as two hours lead up though, so even if you’re reading this after a terrible night last night - it’s not too late!
For moderate to severe noise phobia
Dogs that pace and pant, or run around becoming agitated, and may take several hours to settle after the fireworks stop.
- You can use all of the previous strategies, but on their own, they’re unlikely to be enough. Dogs that suffer from severe noise phobias won’t be distracted by play or food, so it’s usually best to leave this step out.
- Consider whether to try an anxiety vest such as a ‘Thundershirt’. These shirts have been developed off the back of some human research, and the jury’s still out whether they work in pets - but in one (very small) study, most owners found an improvement. They work much like a comfort blanket, with their weight and tightness adding to the effect, but should only be used on animals who don’t mind wearing ‘clothes’ - the last thing you need is to add to their stress.
- Consider talking to one of our vets about using a medical product with sedative properties to help your dog get through the next few days. It’s only a sticking plaster on a bigger problem, but it might be a relief to both you and your dog if you can use something a little stronger. Many of these drugs need an hour or two to work, so do try to find out when your local events will be on.
On the night
- Try to keep your pet indoors (don’t forget to close the cat flap and windows!), and away from outer doors and windows.
- Close all the curtains and build them a ‘den’ somewhere they feel safe- you can use dog crates covered with blankets or, for smaller animals, igloo-type beds.
- Turn the TV or radio up and try to distract them with play or food, but don’t force them if they’re not interested and allow them to retreat to their safe space if this is what they prefer.
- Try to stay in with your pet. It may not seem it, but they’ll take comfort from your presence. As much as possible, act calm and cheerful- if you’re worried about your pet’s reaction, they’ll begin to worry, too.
- If your pet displays any calm behaviour- such as coming to join you on the sofa or sleeping in their bed, then remember to reward them so they come to learn what the ‘right’ response is.
If you have any further questions or concerns about managing your dog during firework season, please don’t hesitate to call our team for help. Our nurses are excellent points of contact on all areas of dog behaviour, and our vets have been busy brushing up on the very latest medications for those severe cases. And remember- you might be able to have a much easier time of it next year if we start a desensitisation programme once the fireworks are over, so call us in the New Year to set up your appointment with one of our nurses to go through the program.