Seeing as it’s that time of year again when fireworks will be happening until into the New Year, here are some tips and ideas for helping your pets cope with the stress of fireworks.
1. Most people aren’t daft enough to let fireworks off in broad daylight, so walk your dogs during the day. If you can’t then don’t take them out once dark – most dogs would rather feel safe inside and forgo the leg stretch, then have a walk of terror after dark.
2. Before dark make sure everybody is safely shut inside. Draw the curtains to keep out any unwanted flashes of light, and put the TV or some music on to help muffle any bangs. From personal experience I have found that having a man in the house playing on one of the violent shooting XBox games works a treat at covering up firework noise – there are so many random bangs coming from the TV that the dogs are used to, that a few more from outside don’t seem to bother them.
3. Lots of people get worried that their pet is going to suffer stress and serious injury. Most animals find a coping mechanism and whilst may be scared, are absolutely fine. Being scared is not dangerous! Do not fuss or reassure your pet if they are scared, similarly do not tell them off as this will make matters worse.
4. Provide somewhere that your pet can hide if they choose to. And if they do take themselves off to hide under the bed or in the washing basket – leave them! They have found a coping mechanism, do not try to drag them out. Sit with them but do not try to make them do anything they do not want to.
5. Signs of extreme stress that will need more intensive care next year include: defecating or urinating, uncontrolled running round the house, barking incessantly, vomiting, aggression, inability to settle or keep still. If your pet is very distressed, there is little that can be done at the time, but planning ahead can make life a lot better for next year.
6. If you have another dog that is not scared, then having the two together can be beneficial.
7. If you are concerned then see your vet and discuss the problem. Vets may be able to prescribe a medication to help with the anxiety, however a lot of the older drugs used actually make things worse (they make the dog unable to react to the fear but they still experience the fear internally). Drugs are not the quick fix, ideal solution that many of my clients seem to think they are. Also, going to see your vet on November the 4th and expecting them to come up with a solution is never going to work. I say this every year to the people who come, and each year they come back again. It is so frustrating.
8. Pheromone diffusers (Adaptil) are a very good choice for dogs with mild phobias. They work by releasing a pheromone that mimics that released by females when suckling their young. It can help dogs cope with many stressful situations and comes in different forms. Well worth a try.
9. The best and long term fix. Effort and training your dog that loud noises are nothing to be scared of. This is the option that is the best for your dog, but for some reason one that many owners choose to avoid. If you have a puppy you never want to develop a phobia, or a dog that is already scared of fireworks, then Sounds Scary Therapy is the way forward. By following the instructions and playing the CDs as directed, you can help your pet learn that fireworks and loud bangs (and other common noises) are not scary at all. This takes time. If you have had problems with fireworks this year, buy the therapy now and you’ll be ready for next year.
10. Seek behavioural advice. If you are struggling then see a qualified behaviourist. Vets have limited time and options to help you but can make a referral to a behaviourist if necessary.
Finally, ensure your pet is microchipped, so if they do escape or run off because they are scared, you stand a good chance of getting them back safely.