The triple whammy of Halloween, Bonfire Night and New Year’s Eve, not to mention Diwali (in late October), means that for many dogs and cats, autumn is the season of stress and fear.  Help is at hand!

Sadly, many owners are unaware that there are treatment options available to help firework worries.  Not every dog or cat can be completely cured, but most can improve significantly, and at least we can help you manage their fears.  Please pass this information on to others who have cats and dogs as it may be of benefit to them, and their pets.

Good to know

If your dog or cat has only recently developed a fear of fireworks or loud noises, try to act as if there is nothing to be scared of.  Be sure to praise them when they are relaxed and calm during the fireworks.

In the short-term, there is nothing wrong with comforting your pet if they are scared.  Some people give advice to completely ignore your dog or cat when they are worried, but we don’t think this is a good idea.  If they come for attention, this is their way of coping with their fears.  They look to you for guidance, so keep calm and carry on … being kind to them.  However, in the longer term, it is better to try and teach them a different way of coping with their fears.  If they are dependent on you being there to cope with the noises, things will be so much worse for them if the loud noises happen when you are not around.

Early doors

The key to helping our pets manage their fears is to start early.  Unfortunately, it is already too late to start teaching them to tolerate loud noises for this year, but it is crucial to start planning ahead so you can do this after firework season.  If noise phobias are left unaddressed they can worsen over time, so you really do need to act to help your cat or dog if they are scared during this cacophonous time of year.  At this point in October, you should think about two things: how to help you pet cope with upcoming fireworks, and then how to work towards reducing their fears before the next firework event.

Managing their fears – this year

If you are reading this article in October, then you can get to work straightaway by teaching them a coping response to the din.

1                 Make them a safe den – it could be an indoor kennel, or a cardboard box, or space under a table.  This needs to be in a place accessible from wherever they are in the home, and ideally will be in an enclosed area where they won’t see the flashes of the fireworks.

2                 Muffle the racket a little by covering their den in blankets or duvets.

3                 Make going inside this den a positive experience by giving them treats and toys inside it.  Always leave the den door open so they can come and go as they please.

4                 Before fireworks night, speak to your vet about medication to reduce your pet’s anxiety, particularly if they are usually terrified.  Many of the commonly prescribed drugs have the added benefit of blocking memory formation, meaning that Rover or Fluffy won’t remember the scary events, and so this will stop their fear from becoming worse.  

On the night

Don’t leave your pets at home alone when you know there will be fireworks going off that night.  If you have not taught them a way of coping (as above), then you need to be there to give them attention and help them deal with their fears, otherwise they will panic much more.

Leave the safe den you have created easily accessible so they can always get to it whenever they want to.  Soundproof it as much as possible, perhaps by wrapping blankets around it.  If they go inside the den then talk to them, and praise them gently, using your attention as the reward for their behaviour.

Even when the fireworks are over, do not try and coax them out; they are in there so they can feel safer.  This is particularly important if you have given them medication, as the meds may make your pet less aware of you.  When they do come out, remember to give them some praise, but otherwise behave normally.

Walk your dog only when you know there won’t be fireworks, so walk him earlier in the day and skip the evening walk.  And keep your cats indoors, bringing in a litter tray or two for their use during the evening, and while the fireworks continue.

If you have to go out, close the curtains and leave the TV or radio on to try and drown out the noise.  Even if you aren’t going out, it’s always a good idea to close the curtain, and have some background noise, like the television or a radio so that the cat or dog is reassured by the normality of the situation.

Help for the long term

The trick is to get your dog or cat to associate fireworks noise with something nice, so that they feel excited and happy, rather than scared, whenever they hear it.  You can do this by playing firework noise extremely quietly, then gradually increasing the volume whenever your dog or cat is relaxed and enjoying themselves.

1                 Get a recording of fireworks noises.  Download for FREE the fireworks noises recorded by vets Sarah Heath and Jon Bowen, from www.dogstrust.org.uk/help-advice.  You can also buy the Sounds Scary CD from Crosskeys Books on 020 8590 3604.

2                 Have your dog or cat in the room with you, make sure they are relaxed and lying down (wait for them to lie of their own accord, don’t give them the command or push them), then:

Play your fireworks track, making sure the volume is set as low as possible so that you can barely hear anything.

While the firework soundtrack is playing, play with Rover or Fluffy or give them a favourite treat.  Treats which last a while, like a stuffed kong or chew, are idea, as they can really get into this as the noises play quietly in the background.

While they chew, you are looking for your pet to not react at all to the noises, or at most, just turn his head or lift an ear.  If he shows any fear – what out for flattening ears, pacing, attempts to leave the area, increased panting, tucking their tail under their body, peeing, trembling – reduce the volue until you are sure they are no longer anxious.

If they stay relaxed and chewing on their treats, you can turn the volume up a notch very slightly – but make sure that they don’t show any sign of fear.  As long as they stay relaxed, not the volume level that you reached and then switch off the soundtrack.

For the next few weeks, you should do the following:  Repeat the quiet playing of firework noises as you did on day one, starting at the previously set volume level – but very gradually increase the volume, one notch at a time.   

The length of time this programme takes will vary from pet to pet, but you should begin to notice that Rover or Fluffy are remaining calm and relaxed even though the volume of firework sounds is increasing over time.  They should also start to associate noises with getting a tasty treat.

Repeat these steps, until your pet remains happy and relaxed while the fireworks track plays.  Gradually increase the volume on the firework track every day.  If you reach a volume that causes your pet to show any fear, you should return to your previous volume setting and repeat for a few more days before you try increasing it once more.

If things are not going to plan, and they still show signs of fear, then stop the programme and get in touch with your vet about referral to a qualified behaviourist further help.   

I have adapted this article from one that was in the autumn issue of WAG, a magazine sent out by the Dog’s Trust.    To find out more about how you can help your dog during the noisy season, see their new video here:

www.dogstrust.org.uk/wagmagazine

  

 

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