Fear of fireworks and noise anxiety
Firework season can be a stressful time for both dogs and owners as many dogs have a fear of fireworks and other loud noises. Sound related fear is common. One scientific study reported that 49% of the UK dog population show signs of sound related fears. It is important to remember that a fear of fireworks and loud noises can affect our other pets too.
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
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Symptoms of noise anxiety
- Panting excessively
- Not settling in their bed
- Holding their tail between their legs
What can you do to help your pet?
- Calming supplements can help to reduce anxiety levels, such as Nutracalm, Zylkene, Kalmaid, Adaptil Express tablets (these are different to the Adaptil Pheromone Collars). Although most of them work within 24 hours (or less), they often work better if they are started prior to the firework season.
- Other products include ThunderShirts, plug-in diffusers and sprays; Adaptil contains Dog Appeasing Pheromone, whilst Pet Remedy contains a blend of calming essential oils.
- Speak to your vet or canine behaviourist in advance. Many owners forget and only remember to contact them the week before firework season starts. This limits what can be done in the immediate period to help and even if your dog requires treatment, sometimes a trial dose is recommended before the fireworks start to check how well it will work.
- Walk your dog earlier in the day and always keep them on the lead.
- Keep your dog indoors when fireworks are being set off.
- Muffle the noise by switching on the TV or radio, and close the curtains to block any flashing lights from outside.
- Let your worried dog pace around, whine and hide in a corner if that is what they want to do. Once they have found a safe space try not to disturb them.
- Do not get angry with your dog if they are scared by the fireworks
- Building a den or safe haven can be beneficial to your dog and gives them a place they can retreat to that will help block out the sounds of fireworks. People often leave it too late; dogs need to be confident using their hiding space prior to the 5th of November. You can try putting an item of clothing or their toys in there to keep your dog calm. The aim is to make this to be a place they like to go and relax in, not a place they worry about being shut in. Once they are happily using it, you can put a duvet over the top to add more sound proofing.
- Try to act normally around your dog. Dog’s rely on environmental cues, and the behaviour and reactions of those around them. They are looking to you to reassure them. Comfort your dog if this is what is normal for you but try not to be too sympathetic. Hugging your dog close to you might make them more fearful. It can be hard to find the perfect balance between providing reassurance and not fueling their concerns but your aim is to try not to let your dog know you are worried as it can make the problem worse. Stay calm (even if you are not feeling calm, try to keep your muscles relaxed, and keep your posture relaxed). Let your dog sniff your hand if required, do not stare back at your dog or at the door or window. Act normally and praise them for calm behaviour. Keep it light hearted if possible. If your dog calms a little, and they start to be distracted, you can then offer a game to try to distract them further or offer a kong that has been stuffed with their food and frozen.
- Do not tie your dog up outside a shop, leave them in the garden or alone in the car while fireworks are being let off.
- Never take a dog to a firework display.
Treatment of firework and noise anxiety
Specific behavioural training in advance of an anticipated event will help to reduce your pet’s adverse response to the noise. Desensitisation and counter-conditioning prior to the event is the best way of helping dogs deal with fireworks. However, this has to be started a few months in advance. Teaching dogs coping strategies, for example, using their hiding place can also help but again, this should be done in advance. Do not wait until fireworks are already going off.
Mild sedative drugs can be prescribed by your veterinarian. Long term, they are best used in combination with appropriate training techniques, which may help to achieve a more beneficial outcome. If your vet has prescribed prescription medication then we recommend that you do not leave your dog alone.
When to see your physical veterinarian
- If your dog’s behaviour doesn’t improve consult a veterinarian or a certified pet behaviourist about help and support for training techniques and relaxation protocols.
- Prescription medication is available from your veterinarian and may help to reduce your pet’s anxiety.
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