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22.10.2018

Remember, Remember the 5th of November


 

For those of us with pets this date is one that we are unlikely to forget, especially since the arrival of over-the-counter fireworks which has led to this colourful and noisy festival often lasting far longer than a single night. So to help you and your pets to have a fireworks period that’s as stress free as possible, we have put together some helpful hints and tips:


Whilst some animals have very obvious noise phobias, others can appear to be relatively relaxed but are actually riddled with anxiety and fear, so how can we tell?

Pet owners will recognise many of the common signs that are associated with increased anxiety in animals but there are also some more unusual signs that you may not know can be your pet’s way of telling you they’re feeling a little stressed:

Signs of anxiety in dogs include (but are not limited to): 

  • Trembling/shaking/shivering
  • Restlessness/pacing
  • Excessive drooling
  • Whining/whimpering/increased vocalisation
  • Reduced appetite
  • Diarrhoea/constipation
  • Behaviour changes
  • Trying to hide away or becoming overly clingy/affectionate
  • Ears flat to head or ‘pinned back’
  • Tail held low or even tucked between hind legs
  • Whites of the eyes more visible
  • Excessive salivating/drooling
  • Yawning
  • Excessive licking
  • Going to the toilet in the house

Signs of anxiety in cats can include:

  • Hiding/cowering especially in high up places such as the tops of furniture (wardrobes and cupboards)
  • Toileting in inappropriate places outside of the litter box
  • Reduced appetite
  • Excessive grooming/fur pulling
  • Behaviour changes/increased aggression
  • Increased vocalisation and restlessness

 

So now we know the signs how do we help reduce the stress for our pets?

 

The earlier the better…

If you have young animals you should look at starting exposure to potential stress-inducing sights and sounds as early as possible. This will help your puppy or kitten to become acclimatised to potential stressors from an early age. There are many types of socialisation or desensitisation CD’s/DVD’s available that you can play in the background to help your animals become used to sounds such as fireworks – doing this in a calm and controlled environment ensures that your pet is less likely to be afraid when they encounter real life scary noises.

Set in their ways…

If you have an older pet that already has a firework or noise phobia there are still lots of things you can do to help reduce their anxiety and make fireworks season a little more bearable for the whole family:

    • Practice makes perfect: Again starting as early as possible is the key so several months before the fireworks season (or even weeks if you are short on time) you can start playing a fireworks/noise phobia desensitisation CD/DVD; these work by introducing your pet to potentially scary sounds at very low volumes and initially short exposure times which, as they become accustomed and comfortable with each sound level, will then be gradually increased over time. Calm behaviours should receive plenty of reward and praise but at the first sign of any anxiety or stress just dial it back to the previous volume and take it a little slower.
    • Safety In numbers: Even if your pet likes to hideaway it really helps for them to know you are nearby, so if you know your pet gets anxious around this time of year then plan to be at home with them during this period – even if you leave the house for a short time on nights when fireworks are happening, it can ramp up their anxiety levels significantly if they don’t know where the other members of their pack are.
    • Lock down: Ensure all windows, doors and pet flaps are securely closed, when animals are scared their ‘fight or flight’ response is often to run away and even though outside is scary they often will try to escape the house. ENSURE ALL PETS ARE MICROCHIPPED! If your pet does manage to escape the house, having them microchipped will mean you that are far more likely to be reunited with a lost pet sooner rather than later.
    • That smells good: The use of cat and dog pheromone sprays and plug-ins can help to provide a more relaxing environment for your pet: These produce scents that you can’t smell but your pet can and they can help to make them feel calmer and reduce anxiety. Talk to your vet about the best ones to use and where to get them from.

 

 

  • Safe place: Creating a den or hideaway for your animal to use can help to them to feel more secure – for dogs this may be a case of putting a few drapes or blankets over their bed, placing pillows and blankets in a low cupboard or wardrobe or even just giving them access to their favourite quiet room – preferably make this space available for several weeks in advance of fireworks season and provide plenty of praise and reward when your dog uses it. Filling the space with your dog’s favourite toys can provide mental stimulation and help with positive association. For cats a covered bed area up high can provide some added security (just make sure this is firmly attached as we don’t want any accidents or falls!) It’s also important to remember that some pets are just as scared by the flashes as they are the noises from fireworks so ensure you draw the curtains/cover the windows to help reduce the sensory overload for your pet.
  • Let’s go for a run: Exercising is a good way to help reduce stress and to promote calmness – taking your dog for a long walk on days when you are expecting fireworks can help to reduce excess adrenaline levels and can aid in calming your dog. Just ensure that all walks are done early in the day before the fireworks start and that you do not over-exercise your dog beyond their limits.
  • Play time: Mental stimulation can help distract your pet so having lots of toys around can help to relieve stress and anxiety – but only if they are interested and want to play; remember to always let them decide what they need.
  • We’re all different: As we’ve discussed, some pets like to hideaway when they’re scared whilst others might be extra clingy/affectionate to you and other animals in the house. Let your behaviour be guided by what your pet needs:
    • If they want to hide then let them but ensure you check on them (discretely) from time-to time
    • If they want to be with you and need extra affection then enjoy the extra cuddles!
    • Avoid picking up scared cats or trying to restrain them as this often makes them feel more anxious

Although it can be stressful for you as an owner to see your beloved pet anxious and unhappy it is important that you always remain calm (both in tone of voice/ actions) and act as normal as possible around them during stressful situations; animals are very perceptive and if they sense we are anxious or scared it can heighten their own emotional response.

 

 

Whilst all of the above tips can really help most pets there are some animals that suffer from debilitating firework phobias. Dealing with pets that have severe phobias can often be extremely distressing, not just for the animal, but also their pet parents. If your pet suffers from extreme anxiety, especially at this time of year, don’t despair; there are other support avenues that your vet will be able to explore with you, including (but not limited to):

  • Pet therapy: Discuss with your vet the possibility of referral to an animal behaviour therapist. These are people who can work with you and your pet to help provide behaviour training and support to assist your pet in overcoming their phobias.
  • Medication: If your animal suffers from severe phobias then your vet may be able to prescribe certain supplements and medications that can help reduce extreme anxiety responses during stressful situations (these are not a cure and should be used in conjunction with other anxiety reducing training techniques).


We hope that by following our handy hints your fireworks season will be a little less stressful, and a little more enjoyable, for you and your pets.