Fireworks – How to Prepare
Keep pets inside:
Don’t let them outside when fireworks are likely or during a display. Take dogs out for toilet purposes before it gets dark and then keep them in.
Shut all the doors, windows and the cat flap; provide extra litter trays if your cat is not used to being shut in. Remember, a firework going off when they’re outside can lead to them developing a general fear of going out. Feed your dog a good meal in the mid afternoon and give him a supply of carbohydrate (such as pasta) three hours later with added vitamin B6. This can help by giving him a full stomach during the evening. This diet also increases the body’s natural calming chemicals in the brain. If necessary do not feed him at any other time during the day to ensure a good appetite.
If your dog is prone to diarrhoea when scared or at other times, or has other medical conditions necessitating a special diet, please consult us and we will give specific advice regarding this strategy.
Fireworks – Reducing the Impact
Provide a den or hiding place:
Animals naturally hide when they’re scared and it can help to provide a ”safe place” which they can squeeze into, like an under stairs cupboard or an indoor kennel with blankets over the top and inside. An ideal place is somewhere near the centre of the house, or somewhere they have already hidden.
Muffle the sound of fireworks – Close curtains, shut outside doors and windows, and have your pet as near to the centre of the house as possible. Blacking out the room removes the potentially additional problems of flashing lights, flares etc., which can become predictors of the noises that your dog or cat is scared of.
Distract your pet: Put on the TV or play music with drumbeats to help mask the sound of fireworks. It doesn’t necessarily have to be loud as long as there is a constant distracting rhythm to the music which will prevent your dog from concentrating on the noises outside.
Engage in an activity with your pet to distract him or provide plenty of familiar toys, but change these frequently so there is lots of new stimulation to interest your dog at this time.
Fireworks – Your own Behaviour Matters
Don”t make the situation worse by your own behaviour:
Try to arrange that you are with your dog so that he doesn’t have the additional problem of being isolated at this time. Remember dogs are very social creatures. However, resist the temptation to reassure your dog or use physical contact such as cuddling to make him feel better. Close physical interaction can inadvertently reinforce the fear. Ignore these noises yourself and try to involve your dog in some form of active game (such as juggling your dog’s toys) so he can choose to join in but only if he wants to.
Stay calm yourself:
Most pets can sense when their owners are worried, and this increases their stress. Let them hide in the den, and leave them there until the fireworks have finished and they come out. You can give your pet lots of fuss once they emerge. Don’t get angry or punish your pet.
Although your pet’s behaviour may be annoying, it is happening because they are scared and getting cross will only make them worse. Don’t try to take your pet out of its hiding place – this increases their stress and could lead to aggression. Be prepared for unusual behaviour – Fear can make your pet behave out of character. For example, if they anticipate that going into the garden predicts a loud noise, they may hide or show aggression to avoid going outside.
Fireworks – Treatment Options
Devices which release natural calming chemicals that help to reassure your dog are now available.
For dogs, they are called “Adaptil”, and for cats they are “Feliway”.
Adaptil is a synthetic copy of a natural canine appeasing pheromone, produced by bitches to make puppies feel safe. It has been used by behaviourists, vets and animal charities for the last 10 years to help dogs cope with a range of stressful situations, firework fear being one of them.
Feliway is a synthetic version of the cat facial pheromone used by cats to mark their territory as a safe and secure place. Over many years it has proved its value in reducing stress-related cat behaviours such as urine spraying and vertical scratching.
Adaptil and Feliway are available in a plug-in diffuser which should be positioned where the pet spends most of its resting time, starting at least a week before fireworks time. They’re also available as a short-acting spray to use directly in the den or bed to increase the pheromone level when the stress is highest, and Adaptil also comes as a collar.
Zylkene is a natural product derived from milk. It has a calming and tranquilising effect similar to the effect of a milk drink on a puppy. Since its launch in April 2008, Zylkene has been used in many common situations which cause stress in our pets, including firework fear. Vets, behaviourists, nurses and pet owners have all found Zylkene to be a valuable asset in managing stress. Zylkene is very easy to give: it comes as a milk-based (and therefore palatable) powder in a capsule. Just open the capsule and sprinkle the powder on some food, just once a day. It is very safe, has no side-effects and is non-addictive. Treatment should be started a 2-3 days before the fireworks, and continue a few days after.
Medication may be useful in some cases but must only be given under veterinary supervision. Remember, drugs should ideally be given so they take effect BEFORE any noise starts or panic sets in. This is usually at least an hour ahead of the events. An alternative approach uses a combination of drugs given over the whole firework period, starting about two weeks before. If you think your pet will need drugs to help them cope, make an appointment to see the vet to get everything sorted out well in advance of Bonfire night.