Getting pets accustomed to ‘cat’herine wheels!
It is estimated that approximately 45 per cent of dogs become stressed and fearful while fireworks are going off, yet many owners are unawareof how to help their dogs with firework fears and the precautions that can be taken to help them cope with their fear of loud noises.
Dogs should have a safe haven or den to retreat to in the home; an area that they feel secure in. The den can be a place that the dog already uses and adapted to be as comfortable, dark and quiet as possible, or a manmade temporary option such as a cardboard box or crate. Preparing a den in advance allows the dog to get used to the area and accept it as a safe place. A towel or blanket can be placed over the den to dim the sounds and lights of the fireworks. The dog should have access to the den at all times.
The dog appeasing pheromone Adaptil® has been shown to reduce anxiety and help dogs cope with challenging situations, including firework events. Adaptil is easy to use and it is available as a diffuser, collar and spray. It reduces the intensity of the dog’s fear response and using an Adaptil diffuser or collar from October can help to combat any anxiety build up the dog experiences in the run up to the fireworks event. Using Adaptil spray on the dog’s bedding can offer additional support during stressful events. For short term support Adaptil Express tablets can be administered two hours before the fireworks.
Further tips for dog owners
• Ensure dogs are taken out for a walk/to the toilet before it gets dark to avoid the need to be taken out later during the fireworks
• Soothing or punishing the dog may increase the intensity of the experience or reward inappropriate behaviour. Instead consider distracting them with a chew, toy, puzzle feeder or a game. Having a meal before the fireworks start can also help as a dog may not want to eat during the event if they are too anxious
• Ensure the dog has access to their water bowl as anxious dogs can pant more
• Keep curtains closed, have the TV or music on and keep the dog company
• Dogs with a more severe reaction to noises should be taken to the vet, as it may be that they need medication in order to cope with the firework season
• Be aware that older dogs may find fireworks more challenging than they have before, as they can start to find changes to routine difficult. Alternatively, those dogs which start to develop hearing loss as they age can find fireworks easier to cope with.
Long term support
In the long term, desensitisation and counter conditioning have been shown to be safe and effective methods for treating sound sensitivities; the ‘Sounds Scary’ CD (also available on iTunes) is a good home tool. However, the dog needs to be relaxed during this training, which means that it needs to be done after the party fireworks season has passed.
Exposing puppies to many different stimuli during their socialisation period can help prevent fears in adult life. There is a different version of the sounds recording which can help with this process – Sounds Scary/Sounds Sociable.
What about cats?
Cats are not thought to show sound sensitivities as dogs do, however they will be frightened by the loud bangs and flashes of fireworks. Therefore, during the firework season owners are advised to keep their cats indoors. This change in routine and confinement to the home can sometimes cause cats to become upset and show unwanted behaviours such as urine marking, inter-cat tension and vertical scratching.
Owners can help their cats cope with these changes by providing enough litter trays throughout the house and ensuring all of the cats in the household have safe places to hide in. These often are up high, for example on the top of cupboards, but could also be under a bed or in a box. Once a cat has found a safe spot for the night, leave it alone and do not try to coax it out, as this refuge is where it feels most secure. Plugging a Feliway® diffuser into the room where a cat spends most of its time or where its safe place is, at least 48 hours before the festivities begin, will help to ensure it feels as safe and secure as possible. There is also a Feliway spray which can be applied to a cat’s bedding on the night of the event to provide additional support.
What about other pets?
Small animals and birds all need to be treated with special care as these animals are easily frightened. Hutches, cages and enclosures should, if possible, be brought into a quiet room indoors, or into a garage or shed. Providing extra bedding for them to burrow down in can help the pet feel more secure. Aviaries should be covered with thick blankets to block out the sight and sound of the fireworks, but care should be taken to ensure there is enough ventilation in the aviary.
Fireworks can be difficult for many pets to cope with but there is a lot that can be done to support them through this troubling period. For further information please contact us on 01243 842832 or visit www.adaptil.com/uk or www.feliway.com/uk.
Sheppard, G. and Mills, D.S. (2003) Evaluation of dog appeasing pheromone as a potential treatment for dogs fearful of fireworks. Vet Rec. 152 (4): 432-6