Noise Phobias

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Firework stress affects almost 50% of dogs and many cats too, as well as rabbits and other pets.. Fireworks are no longer a 5th November only event and are heard throughout the Autumn and often used for many other celebrations such as birthdays, weddings and carnivals. Stress can manifest itself in many ways – many dogs will run around and vocalise, some even become destructive and may harm themselves. However, sometimes the signs of stress can be much more subtle. This is especially true for cats – they will often ‘withdraw’ and hide, meaning that their stress is not easily recognised, or will groom excessively and cause damage to the hair and skin.

If stress associated with fireworks is not dealt with, it often progresses to fear of other sounds like thunder and gunshots and eventually even every day noises such as car doors slamming. As a result we need to address this problem promptly and effectively to improve the welfare of our pets.

Managing firework stress needs an approach to both the short and long term issue. In the short term we must manage our pets on the night. Long term we need to change the feelings our pets associate with fireworks in order that they do not become stressed.

Short Term Management

Short term management helps our pets cope during the firework season. Below are some useful tips to help your pet.

  • Provide a den or hiding place – ideally where your pet would normally seek refuge, start early so that they can get used to the hiding area, this may be under the bed, so use toys and treats before the firework season starts, or it may be crates for dogs, with blankets to cover them or even behind the sofa, with a tent like area. Cats are often happy with cardboard boxes, so these can be left in different areas of the house for your cat to choose their most comfortable place.
  • Muffle the sound of the fireworks – turn on the radio or television but have them at a normal sound volume, close the curtains, so the flashing lights can't be seen.
  • Keep your pet inside – close the cat flap and ensure your dog or cat is not able to access the garden. Walk your dog earlier in the day to avoid the times that fireworks are let off.
  • Do not fuss them, or tell them off, if they are stressed. Only interfere if you think your pet could hurt itself. If they come to you stroke them but try to act as normally as possible.
  • Reward quiet, calm behaviour with treats or a quiet game.
  • Speak to your vet to get further advise and discuss natural calming remedies, or calming pheromone products or they may need prescription treatments that will have a short term effect.

The most important change that must be made is for you to change your behaviour. It is completely natural to want to reassure your pet when it is stressed – however all this does is reinforce the unwanted behaviour and unfortunately makes matters worse, so only make a fuss of them if they come to you.

Long Term Management

Sound desensitisation is proven to address the underlying problem by altering your pet’s reaction to the stress-inducing noises. It works by exposing your pet to the scary sounds under controlled conditions whilst it is doing something enjoyable such as chewing a favourite toy or treat. This then breaks the negative association that your pet has learned with respect to fireworks and makes the association more positive. The most common method uses Downloads which are played initially for a very short amount of time at low volume. The length of time and volume is gradually increased as your pet progresses through the programme.

Sound Desensitisation takes time – usually weeks to months and you must be guided by your pet as to how quickly you can progress through the program. It should not be performed when fireworks are likely to be heard. Therefore the best time to start is AFTER firework season – perhaps in the spring time. 

There are several supportive treatments that can be used to help your pets when confronted by loud noises, such as Adaptil collars or plug ins, Zylkene or Scullcap & Vallerian tablets. Please call us if you are worried to speak to or see one of our vets or our Behaviour nurse Kirsty Payne.

Please come and discuss your pet with us. Contact us on 01837 82327

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