Unfortunately, firework phobia is very common amongst our pets, with over 60% of owners having had a pet that has been afraid of them. With firework season fast approaching, it's very important that we do as much as we can to help reduce our pet's anxiety.
1. Create a den
The majority of cats and dogs will prefer to have a den available at all times, but especially if they are feeling fearful. When creating your pet a den, try to put in their favourite room, but ideally in the middle of the house, where the noises and sights of fireworks will be reduced. Fill the den with lots of comfortable blankets and an old, unwashed item of clothing that will be comforting and a reminder of you when you are not around. Cover the den with thick blankets to make it dark and a proper hidey-hole.
2. Encourage your pet to use their den
Initially introduce your pet to the den and feed them treats or meals in there. Be sure to give your pet lots of praise and playtime when in the den to create that essential positive connection. Try to encourage your pet to go in to their den 2-3 times a day and leaving a toy, bone or treat in there can be a great reward and a welcome distraction.
3. Introduce Feliway and Adaptil
Both of these products are a natural pheromone that is comforting to your pet but unnoticeable to humans. Feliway is a pheromone that is specific to and secreted by cats that will help provide comfort and reduce anxiety. It is available as a spray and a plug-in diffuser to comfort your cat where needed. Adaptil is a natural pheromone that is secreted from a bitch to her puppies and is therefore very comforting to dogs. Again the product is specific to dogs and can be detected by humans.
Adaptil is available as a spray and diffuser, but also as a collar.
The plug-in diffusers should be plugged in to a low-level socket near to your pets den and without anything blocking your pet's access to the diffuser. Once a diffuser has been plugged in, it shouldn't be moved; instead you should introduce additional diffusers if required. Where possible try to introduce the diffusers that look like a plug-in air freshener at least a couple of weeks before the event.
An adaptil collar must be worn by your dog at all times and is effective 24 hours a day for up to a month.
The sprays are ideal for use in the den as they can be applied 20 minutes before needed and are easily transported.
4. Use Vetpro Stress and Anxiety
This a capsule made from natural ingredients to reduce your pet's anxiety and normalise their brain function. It is one of the quickest acting products available, with effects seen within 1 hour. There are no side effects from using stress & anxiety but some pets can feel drowsy on it. Due to the quick onset of stress & anxiety, it is great for our pet's unexpected anxieties as well.
During the event
1. Reduce the noise and sight of fireworks
Make sure all the doors and windows are closed and draw all curtains and blinds. Try leaving the television or radio on in the same room as your pet's den. Ideally any music should be moderately loud with a good beat, but be careful as this may be more frightening if your pet is not accustomed to this kind of music.
2. Stay calm
Your pet will quickly and easily detect the mood that you are in, if you are anxious too, this will only concern them more. Try to stay calm and maintain a normal routine within the house, showing your pet there is nothing to be scared of.
3. Don't soothe your pet
This is a very hard thing for all pet owners to do but soothing your pet only increases their anxiety as it rewards them for being scared. When your pet is showing frightened or fearful behaviour, you should ignore them but reward and praise them when they start to relax. If your pet is only mildly painful, try to distract them by playing a game, this can be beneficial if you have more than one pet and can encourage the more fearful pet to relax.
4. Be prepared
Feed a large, carbohydrate rich meal during the late afternoon to help make your pet feel calm and sleepy as the night approaches. Adding potato or pasta can be ideal but watch their weight - we don't want them piling on the pounds. Keep food and water bowls in your pet's den so they don't have to come out if they don't want to. Try to walk your pet or allow them to go to the toilet about an hour before the fireworks are due to start. It may be advisable to introduce extra litter trays if you have cats.
There are other drug combinations that can also help your pet. Please contact the surgery for advice and information.
Having got through firework season this year, you need to start to do something about your dogs phobia. Many dogs can be treated using behavioural methods called desensitisation and counter conditioning. Specially made recordings of fireworks can be used to train dogs not to react to the noises they fear. This takes time and patience and the advice of an experienced professional should be sort.