Signs of Stress:
Trembling and shaking, clingy with owners, cowering and hiding, excessive barking, trying to run away, soiling indoors, pacing and panting, refusing to eat. These signs indicate your pet is scared of fireworks or any noise remotely similar and therefore suffering from high levels of stress. There is lots we can do to help.
Preparation is important if dogs are to get through fireworks or thunderstorms with minimum of fear and stress.
- Make sure your pet is microchipped and wearing an identity tag
- You need to make a special place where your dog can go to get away from the sounds he fears. Most dogs will already have a favourite room to go to; in which case all you need to do is to modify this place to make it even more suitable as a bolt-hole.
Some dogs do not know where to go to escape and, for these individuals, you need to create somewhere for them to hide. It is best to choose a room that is naturally quiet and those that are located toward the centre of the house and have minimal numbers of windows are the most suitable.
A crate, dining table or cardboard box (providing your dog is not a chewer) can work well. Cover in blankets/duvet to help block noise and sound.
It is best to prepare the refuge as far ahead of the firework event as you can. Your dog must always be able to get to this place whenever he is frightened.
- Get your dog used to having their dinner in a kong, lickimat or K9 connectables, (dry food can be soaked and mixed with some hard kibble to provide the right texture for stuffing into kongs). Start this process way before firework season so they learn to enjoy and receive the calming benefits that licking and chewing provides, you can then continue to use around firework season to help your dog be in a calm state before and during the evening.
- Increase your dog’s confidence around new noises by playing games such as ‘Cardboard chaos’; Make a pile of recycling using cardboard boxes/plastic bottles etc (start small and you can build on this as your dog’s confidence grows). Using your dog’s dinner or some higher value food if they are particularly nervous, throw some kibble near/into the pile of recycling. Without applying any pressure we want the dog to be happy to snuffle in and around the recycling for the food making noise whilst they are eating lots of goodies. For this game to be successful the dog must be enjoying themselves, so if they look nervous or uncomfortable take it back a stage (i.e. one small cardboard box) and increase the value of the food (use chicken/sausage etc)
This game is all about building your dog’s confidence that will in turn hopefully help them be better able to cope with scary fireworks and new situations. (Make sure you are always supervising in case they decide to chew some recycling!)
Get your dog used to hearing classical music or having the tv on loud in the evenings.
Install a Dog Appeasing Pheromone (ADAPTIL©) diffuser in the home, preferably close to or inside the dogs hiding place. The ADAPTIL© diffuser is a device that looks like an air freshener that you plug into a wall socket. It produces a smell that is like a chemical that your dog’s mother used to calm her puppies. ADAPTIL© diffusers are available from the surgery and pet shops and should be left operating 24hrs a day. If possible, install the diffuser a couple of weeks before a known event, like fireworks, as this will produce a more powerful effect. ADAPTIL© makes dogs feel much more relaxed and confident when they might otherwise be stressed. You can also fit an Adaptil Collar to your dog if a plug in is not suitable
On The day
It is important to make sure your dog has had a calm day with minimal stress as adrenaline levels can stay in their system for at least 72 hours. We advise promoting calmness as much as possible during the firework period, choose walks that are safe and quiet, avoid throwing toys/playing high energy games. Avoid having guests round if your dog is likely to be over excited or worried about them.
- Provide calming chews/kongs/ scatter feeding throughout the afternoon/evening, a large carbohydrate rich meal can help them feel full and sleepy.
- Make sure your dog has been out to toilet before dark
- Provide blankets for your dog to dig and burrow in. Include clothing so that your dog can smell your scent and feel comforted by your indirect presence.
- The dog must not see the flashes of fireworks or lightening, so close the windows and use heavy curtains to make the room dark.
- Turn on the music/TV before it gets dark
- Make sure your pet is kept in a safe and secure environment at all times so that he doesn’t bolt and escape if a sudden noise occurs. Keep your dog on a lead if you have to go out after dark and make sure that gates, fences and doors are secure.
When the noise starts:
- Try to act normal as if there is nothing to be afraid of and your dog will hopefully pick up on your ‘calm vibes’. Also, if your dog comes to think of you as the only person who can soothe his fears, he may panic if there are fireworks when you are not around to help.
- Do not get cross with your dog when he is scared as it will only make him more frightened.
- Try to appear happy and relaxed. If your pet is only mildly fearful, you could try to engage him in some form of active game. It can help if you play a game with another (brave!) pet in the household because the frightened one may be tempted to join in.
- If your pet is very frightened by the noises and cannot be encouraged to play, then lead him to the refuge you have created.
Cats can also get scared! The same rules apply for cats but use Feliway© diffusers
Other treatment options:
If you know your pet is terrified of fireworks the above advice will help but it may be necessary to use alternate therapies and medications to help reduce your pet’s fear. There are a range of options available and most can be used together:
- Adaptil Plug in (mentioned above): Ideally plug in a couple of weeks before the firework season starts and in the room/area where the dog is most likely to hide or spend most of his time. Leave turned on continuously.
- Adaptil Express tablets Or Vetpro Stress & Anxiety: These are a combination of natural ingredients; GABA, L-theanine, L-tryptophan and B vitamins that help provide a fast and temporary calming effect. We have seen great success when used for our nervous hospitalised patients.
- Pet Remedy plug in/ atomiser/ spray/ wipes: Natural blend of Valerian, Vetiver, sweet basil and sage helps all species tackle stress and anxiety. Great for cats/rabbits as well as dogs. Again we use this regularly for our nervous inpatients and see a great effect. Easy to use, variety of affordable options.
- Anxiety Shirts (e.g. thundershirt): Tight fitting outfit designed to apply constant, gentle pressure similar to swaddling a baby. If you don’t want to use medications this is an ideal solution. We recommend putting the outfit on before dark so the dog is receiving the calming benefits before the fireworks start and this also then reduces the chance of the dog developing an association between the outfit and scary noises. Please note, we do not stock these as there is a variety of sizes available but we do have some we use for inpatients that you can try on your pet for size and we can then order the correct size in for you.
This list of treatments can all be used together in conjunction with the advice above for ultimate firework fear prevention!
Prescription medicines: There are a few medicines available that are anxiety reducing / provide light sedation. We prefer to try all the above treatments first before dispensing prescription medicines as they are not as safe to use due to the unknown response i.e. may cause very mild effects or may make your pet very sleepy. Pets should not be left unsupervised when given prescription medicines and accurate dosing is very important. Please speak to a member of our team for more information.