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Taking the Fear out of Fireworks

Blog Header Firework Fear

With autumn creeping up on us and the nights getting darker, we’re moving closer towards one of the most stressful times of year for pets – fireworks season.

More than half of our pet dogs and cats are thought to show signs of fear during fireworks but it’s often not given consideration until it is too late.

How do I tell if my pet has a phobia?

Whilst fireworks is a very common fear, your pet may also display signs of fear of a multitude of other things. Sometimes, this can be down to a single incident so it can be difficult to track the source of a fear.

Fears may materialise in different ways in different animals. Typically, symptoms may include:

  • Aggression
  • Barking or whining
  • Soiling in the house
  • Destructive behaviour
  • Hiding
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Lack of appetite

Bertie -bed

Dealing with fears and phobias:

Early action is important in helping your pet. If, for example,  your pet suffers from a fear of fireworks , don’t wait until right before bonfire night. Speak to your vet now about your options so they can give an informed decision on what is best for your pet’s needs.

There are several over-the-counter products you can buy which are designed to help with anxiety and stress in pets. These include Zylkene (based on an ingredient in a mother’s milk) and Feliway/Adaptil (based on the use of pheromones). These are non-prescription and can be safely used in the long term.

To deal with fears in the long term, we would often advise the use of behaviour modification therapy. This frequently involves desensitisation, a technique designed to gradually introduce the source of a pet’s fears and desensitise them to the subject of fear through structured encounters and exposure.

This is a complex and fairly delicate process so it is best explored with the help of your vet (or a behaviourist if you are referred to one). They can work with you to devise a plan of action that meets your pet’s needs.

What other options are there?

If your pet’s behavioural issues require more in-depth investigation, it may be worthwhile contacting the APBC to find a pet behaviourist:  http://www.apbc.org.uk/help/regions

They can offer you the benefit of their experience and specialism.

Long term medication is also a viable option in some circumstances where a fear is seriously affecting a pet’s behaviour on a day-to-day basis.

Sleepy -dog

Avoiding phobias and fear:

Good early habituation and socialisation are very important in ensuring that your pet grows up to be confident and happy. During the ‘sensitive period’ up to around 12 weeks of age, puppies and kittens are receptive to new experiences and curious about all the new things and situations they encounter. It’s helpful to introduce a wide variety of life experiences at this stage so they will be comfortable with them as an adult.

Some things may be difficult, if not  impossible,  to replicate during this stage which is why we’d recommend an audio-desensitisation CD. These feature noises like gunfire, thunder and fireworks so you can introduce them when your pet is likely to accept them. Some of these CD’s feature crying baby noises so you can get pets used to an imminent arrival.

Audio-desensitisation CD’s are also great for use in behavioural conditioning to help your pets conquer their fears.

Here’s a great checklist for you to use in the habituation and socialisation process: http://www.k9funclub.co.uk/Downloads/Puppy+Socialisation+Checklist.pdf

If you have a kitten, your list will be slightly different. However, the same list is still useful in terms of introducing a wide range of general experiences.

Top tips for dealing with fireworks fear in pets:

  • Keep cats inside and walk dogs before it gets dark.
  • Even though it may be your first instinct, do NOT make a fuss and comfort them if they show fear. This will only reinforce the fear. Do keep them company though.
  • Put on the TV/radio at a low level.
  • Let pets hide if they want to and make sure they have a suitable ‘hidey-hole’.
  • Don’t cling on to them or keep them restrained unless you think they may injure themselves.
  • What do they enjoy doing normally? Engage in a spot of play or grooming to distract them and, if you know a dog who isn’t bothered by fireworks, invite them for a playdate.
  • Make sure your pet is wearing ID, and is microchipped, in case they get frightened and run off.
  • Don’t forget small animals too! If you can’t bring them in from outside then cover one section of their hutch/aviary, etc (not all of it though) so they have one secure corner to shelter in.
  • Don’t get angry if your pet is destructive or soils in the house during this time – it will only make the situation worse.

To contact a vet to discuss your pet’s needs during firework season (or for help with anything else), please use our online practice finder to find your local Medivet practice. 

Posted October 7, 2014 in Seasonal Care

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