Firework phobias in dogs are a common problem. It must be quite concerning to be surrounded by bangs and crackles when you have no idea where they have come from – especially when you consider that in dog world the air smells of smoke and fire also. There are however a few small things you can do to try to ease the fear and distress for your beloved pet.
Firstly – if your dog is scared – do not let him or her outside without a lead. They can easily get disorientated and run away from home in these stressful situations. If at all possible keep them indoors with the doors, windows and curtains closed. Try to time any toilet breaks to quieter times, and keep them on the lead.
Second – try not to over-react to the noises, or to your pets’ distress. Cuddling and comforting them only reassures them that there is something to be scared of, and effectively lets them know that you are scared too and want a cuddle back. Try not to act differently, ignore the noises, and allow them to fall asleep if at all possible.
Third – have a nice relaxed evening in front of the telly – If you are going out or staying in – putting on some background noise is sometimes helpful. Turning up the television, or radio in an attempt to drown out some of the outdoor noise can help. Don’t turn it up too loud though as this can be an extra stress.
Creating a ‘den’ area in advance – cage or blanket covered, in a safe, quiet room, for them to hide in can provide some comfort. Fill the area with creature comforts like their usual bed and toys – as long as you are careful that the nerves don’t lead to them deciding to destroy these items and, worse, swallow them.
Taking your pet for a walk in the early evening – before the noise is anticipated to start can be a good idea, and feeding them a carbohydrate rich meal a little while after returning can help to make them drowsy for the evening. Of course – if you have a deep chested, or large breed dog – be aware not to feed them immediately before or after exercise to reduce the chance of a twisted stomach.
If your pet has a severe phobia of the noises on bonfire night (or the two weeks surrounding it), or new years eve – you can talk to your local vet about calming treatments that are available from them. Most vets these days will avoid sedatives, using in their place more modern calming drugs with fewer side effects, and a better overall effect on the night. Some dogs will respond well to calming pheromone products that can be used in your home – though this is sometimes not enough for the worst cases who may need tablet medication.
Longer term solutions are available in the form of sound desensitisation programmes. These will need starting months in advance of the period of the noise. They usually take the form of cd’s that you play to your pet – initially at a low volume – in an attempt to get them used to hearing these noises all year round, and hence not be scared of them.
For more information on any of the above contact your local vet.
Jeremy Hall BVMS MRCVS – Severn Edge Veterinary Group, Bewdley. Call 01299 409157