24 Dec Fireworks phobia
Why are dogs and cats scared of Fireworks?
Dogs’ and cats’ hearing is up to 3x more sensitive than ours and their noses are up to 100x as sensitive as ours. The combination of the decibels and the smell of the smoke from fireworks can send dogs’ and cats’ sensory system into massive overdrive! This overstimulation can cause intense feelings of panic in pets that can make them do behaviours that they normally wouldn’t (like running away from home).
Apart from the smell and sounds, animals may also perceive senses that humans cannot and this can further add to the sensory overload they experience at times like now.
Companion animals are generally creatures of habit, and with fireworks comes crowds and there are a lot more people in the local neighbourhood celebrating the end of the year. There are also many more cars in the area and these changes can add to the hysteria many animals suffer.
What emotional support can we give them?
1) Setting up a ‘safe space’ or ‘den’
The best advice to give is to establish a ‘safe space’ for your pets in the home – a quiet part of the house where you can set up a crate to act as their ‘den’ at times of anxiety.
Step 1: Simply get a crate that is large enough for your pet to stand up in and turn around
Step 2: Place 3-4 blankets over the top and drape the sides of the crate. This creates sound-proofing as well reduces light inside to make them feel secure
Step 3: Place food and water bowls inside
Step 4: Gently encourage your pet to enter the den and feed them and pat them when inside.
It’s recommended that you set up the den soon, to get your pet used to the calming effect of being inside so that they will retreat to it on the big night.
For cats, the safest place for them to be is securely inside the den at all times, to avoid them falling down stairs, off wall units etc if they go into a frenzy!
2) Desensitisation is totally possible!
Desensitisation is also a really great idea to try now. On YouTube and other platforms, there are plenty of fireworks audiograbs that we suggest you play while doing something positive with your pet (for example feeding them their favourite snack). They key is to keep the volume low to start and gradually, if your pet is tolerating it, turn the volume progressively up. Remember that if your pet starts to get stressed don’t keep pushing on with the desensitisation program as it can make them take a big backwards step.
There is a product available called Thundershirt which has been proven to help with storm and fireworks phobia. It is a restrictive t-shirt that gently places pressure over the whole body. It is thought this somatic sensation produces feel-good chemicals that blunt the anxiety – provoking stimulation of the fireworks.
Do we cuddle or ignore?
There are two schools of thought here. The first is that if you reassure your pet while they are demonstrating anxiety symptoms, this fearful behaviour will be encouraged and the anxiety will get worse. The other school of thought is that by cuddling your pet during a panic, this gives them feelings of calmness that helps the acute episode.
Our advice is to use a hybrid approach. It’s important to recognise that you should pat and cuddle your pet when they are acting in a calm fashion – this way you encourage them to be calm more often. However if they do start panicing during the fireworks, it is OK to gently reassure them and even try to distract them by feeding some tasty treats (if they will eat them).
Medication is very helpful in moderate to severe cases of fireworks phobia or in dogs who have heart problems where the anxiety could make their condition worse.
A drug called trazodone is safe, effective and non-addictive and can be used on an as-needed base.
We recommend consulting with your vet to determine a good starting dose and test the effect of the medication a few days before. Your pet should be able to walk, but gently scuffing their paws on the floor.
For dogs, there is a product called Adaptil that comes in a collar, diffuser and spray. It is a synthetic copy of a naturally-derived pheromone that lactating bitches secrete from their mammary glands and this has a calming effect on their puppies. We recommend spraying a bandanna thoroughly with the liquid and applying that to your pet’s collar. The plugin diffuser also works well and should be plugged into an electrical outlet in the middle of the room to ensure even distribution in the air.
The same products are available for cats under the name ‘Feliway’
A variety of herbal supplements can be used, with varying effect. Be sure to check with your vet before using any of these as they can have side effects and interact with medication.
There is some evidence to say omega 3 fatty acid supplementation can significantly affect the way sensory overload is processed by the brain and these special fats may be helpful for reducing overall anxiety.
What to do to prepare for fireworks?
Over 500 dogs every year escape their homes in Australia due to the anxiety caused by end of year fireworks celebrations.
While you’ve taken in the above and will do everything to make the night as stress-free as possible, there are a few things you need to do to ‘hedge your bets’.
1) Ensure your pet’s microchip is updated with the NSW Companion Animals Register. You can do this using the online self-service function of their website at www.petregistry.nsw.gov.au. This way if the worst thing happens and they escape your property, they can be easily identified and you can be reunited as soon as possible
2) Get a pet ID tag with your contact details engraved – this is the quickest way for members of the public to identify your pet and return them to you
3) Remind guests who are coming over to leave doors and gates completely shut to avoid your pets escaping
4) Make sure to contact your vet to give them your pet’s microchip number so in the event your pet ends up their they will know who they are!
Trying to figure out how to calm a dog down after fireworks? We hope this article has helped! To book an appointment with one of our vets, click here or call us today!