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Advice in the run-up to firework season

by
01 October 2015, at 1:00am

Dr SARAH ENDERSBY of Ceva Animal Health discusses the effects on pets of noise sensitivity and how veterinary practices can proactively help their clients to avoid unnecessary anxiety and upset

FIREWORKS are increasingly popular and can be set off at any time of the year to celebrate birthdays, weddings and specific events such as Halloween, Bonfire Night, Diwali, Christmas and the New Year.

Fireworks can be wonderful displays but can pose a real problem for your clients’ beloved pets. A recent study found that 49% of dogs in the UK have a degree of sensitivity to noise – 49% is a large proportion of your clients.

Preparation is key and raising awareness before events like Bonfire Night should help clients think about getting organised. There will always be a few clients asking for help a day or two before Bonfire Night, so it is important to have tips for these owners too.

There are many ways to start communicating with your clients including:

  • Eye-catching waiting room displays to remind clients to prepare for the fireworks season.
  • Pet owner support material discussing fireworks and how to help pets that is available to complement these displays.
  • Newsletters, websites and social media feeds are all excellent ways to grab your clients’ attention. Some companies will also have text/articles already prepared for you to use.

Signs of anxiety

Now is also a good time to help owners understand how a dog may demonstrate it is finding fireworks difficult to cope with. Signs owners should look out for include:

  • trembling and shaking
  • licking of lips
  • panting
  • chewing objects
  • being more “clingy” to owners
  • cowering and hiding
  • unable to settle
  • trying to dig
  • barking excessively
  • urinating or defecating in the house

What advice can we give?

An important step is to ensure the dog has a safe haven or den to retreat to in the home – an area that they feel secure in. Ideally this should be in a room in the house that is easily accessible and away from windows.

The den can be a place that the dog already uses and has been adapted to be as comfortable, dark and quiet as possible; maybe even a man-made 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 to be. Whatever format of den is chosen, it is also advisable to use towels and/or blankets to cover the area to dim the sounds and lights of the fireworks and to ensure the dog has access to the den at all times (even when the owner is not at home).

The use of the dog appeasing pheromone (Adaptil, Ceva Animal Health) has been shown to reduce anxiety and help dogs cope with challenging situations, including firework events (Sheppard and Mills, 2003).

Adaptil is easy to use and has different preparations, including a diffuser, collar and spray. It reduces the intensity of the dog’s fear response and should be used alongside other measures to manage or treat sound sensitivities, such as building a den.

Using a diffuser or collar from as early as October can really help to combat any anxiety build-up the dog experiences in the run-up to the main fireworks season.

If clients want support for their dog shortly before a firework event, Adaptil collars or sprays start to provide support quickly. Fast-acting tablet options are also available. Nutraceutical-based Adaptil Express tablets should be administered two hours before the fireworks start and can provide rapid support in such situations.

Further tips

  • Ensure dogs are taken out for a walk/to the toilet before it gets dark and before the fireworks start.
  • Punishing or even soothing 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 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 radio on and keep the dog company. • Dogs with a more severe reaction to noises may need medication in order to cope.
  • Be aware that older dogs may find fireworks more challenging as they can find changes to routine difficult. Conversely, dogs which start to develop hearing loss as they age can actually find fireworks easier to cope with!

Long-term support

Desensitisation and counterconditioning are safe and effective methods for treating sound sensitivities; the Sound Scary CD (also available on iTunes) is a good tool for home use.

However, the dog needs to be relaxed during this training, which means it needs to be done after the fireworks season has passed. Support throughout the process is recommended and referral to a qualified animal behaviourist should be considered.

What about cats?

Cats are more difficult to read than dogs; 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 are often 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 pheromone diffuser (such as Feliway, Ceva Animal Health) 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 and reassurance for the cat.

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 still enough ventilation in the aviary.

Horses and ponies

Fireworks must not be set off near livestock or horses in fields, or close to buildings housing livestock. Anyone planning a firework display in a rural area should warn neighbouring farmers in advance and the fireworks should be set off in the opposite direction to their field and well away from them. Horses should be kept in their normal routine and can be left in their field so long as it is safe, secure and not near the fireworks display area.

References

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): 432-436.