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Fireworks and helping your pet

Firework season is fast approaching and many dogs & cats can find the firework season very stressful.

As owners, we may often find it just as stressful, watching our pets cowering and hiding but feeling unable to help them.

Fear of noises such as fireworks or thunderstorms is a common problem in dogs, and to a lesser extent, cats. Some dogs show mild signs of stress such as panting, pacing, shivering and generally looking worried while others can become extremely distressed and may even become destructive or panicked.

Fear of noises tends to get worse over time rather than getting better, so instead of dreading the firework season this year you could consider a noise desensitisation programme for your dog? This can help your dog learn to cope with the sound of fireworks and help you and your dog enjoy a stress free firework season. Ideally, the programme should be started a few months in advance of the firework season. However, most of us tend to only think about fireworks as we hear the first ones explode! It is still worth considering, but more likely for next year rather than this year.

Avoid comforting your pet

Try not to comfort your pet. Whilst it seems natural to do so, it is best avoided. The animal will pick up on your anxiety and this may make the problem worse. Fussing a pet that appears frightened can reward and encourage this behaviour

Build a Den for Your Pet

It is now considered a really good idea to build your pet a den so they have somewhere to feel secure and safe. This video gives you some hints and tips. 

Other top tips for dogs & cats

On the evenings you expect fireworks, ensure your dog or cat is safely inside and secure doors and windows. If you have a cat flap, make sure it is locked shut.

Make sure your pet is microchipped. If they do escape, frightened, confused animals can easily get lost.

Ensure your dog is taken out for a walk early in the evening before the fireworks start and if you have a cat, ensure your cat is provided with a litter tray both before and during the firework season.

Try not to go out while the fireworks are going off. Seeing you acting normally will help your pet feel more settled.

Adaptil  Spray can be applied to your pet’s bedding on the night of the event to give him or her additional support.

This video is a short introduction to how it works:

After the firework season is over, consider treatment for your dog’s fear of fireworks. Adaptil and the Sounds Scary® CD therapy pack have been scientifically proven to be an effective combination for treating firework phobias in dogs. One option is to consider seeing a behaviourist if your pet is really struggling.

In multi-cat households, shutting cats in overnight may cause disharmony amongst your pets. A Feliway® Diffuser may help lower inter-cat tension.

What is desensitisation?

It involves playing a CD of firework sounds daily to your dog initially at low levels and gradually increasing the duration and intensity of the sound until your dog becomes comfortable with the noise. The most popular program is that made by Sounds Scary. If you have a puppy, there is Sounds Soothing, and there is also a CD called Sounds for Life that can help puppies get used to these sounds before ever developing a fear of them.

The Sounds Scary program does take time and patience but will help your dog in the long term. The CD can be used alongside diffusers called DAPs.

These plug in devices look like air fresheners and produce a substance called Dog Appeasing Pheromone, a substance naturally produced by the mother to relax the puppies and make them feel secure. We can also use this as a spray.

A similar device is available for cats and is called Feliway. This has many other uses with cats and isn’t just limited to use to help cats get through the firework season.

A new natural product

A new product available is Zylkène. This is a natural product, proven to help manage stress in dogs and cats and help them adapt to change. It is produced from a protein found in milk and can help pets cope
with stress at any time, not just for the fireworks frenzy that we see every November, that then continues into New Year.

Other drugs to relieve anxiety

Traditionally, vets have often used sedatives to calm down some dogs but it is believed that these drugs actually reduce an animal’s ability to respond rather than actually reducing their anxiety. We now prefer to use drugs such as valium or diazepam, and a more recent similar product. These reduce anxiety, and may mean that the pet doesn’t remember the episode of feeling scared, so helping them in the future. These drugs are prescription only medicines. Depending upon when we last examined your pet, we may have to examine them prior to prescribing them.

Draw the curtains, play music and turn up the TV to help mask the noise of exploding fireworks. Your presence will improve their sense of security, but try and ignore their anxiety and certainly try not to punish them. This only confirms to them that there really is something to be afraid of.

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