Not many dogs like fireworks: some don’t mind them, some bark at them if they are a bit noisy or close. Some dogs find them frightening and each year their fear gets worse, however their response is proportional to the noise and perceived threat.
Some dogs panic and get very distressed even by the smallest sounds. This is called a phobic response. Some breeds of dog are much more susceptible to developing phobias, and frightening experiences when they are young or being with another dog that is phobic will often results in phobias developing.
Phobic dogs want to run and hide in their chosen spot and will get very distressed if they can’t.
Short Term Treatment Options:
1) Provide Refuge. Provide access to a refuge where your pet can go where the noise if definitely less. This is usually a room with solid walls, small or no windows, lots of soft furnishings and loud music with a good beat! Under an old bed is good, especially if you cover it with lots of blankets and old coats etc.
2) Management Guidelines. Keep windows and curtains closed, feed a stodgy carbohydrate rich meal with a Vitamin B supplement before it starts getting dark. Do not give your dog attention or reassurance when it is anxious or fearful. Do not punish your dog when it is scared.
3) DAP Diffusors – Dog Appeasement Pheromone which is a plug in device which emits a relaxing pheromone and reduces anxiety. It needs to be plugged in throughout the firework period and works either in conjunction with other medication or to assist mildly anxious dogs. Feliway diffuser is available for cats.
4) Herbal fireworks remedies – skullcap and valerian tablets are available for dogs which “go to pieces” with fireworks. Can be used for prolonged periods and may be combined with the DAP or more traditional sedatives. Organic Valerian compound is in liquid form. This works in the same way as Scullcap and valerian tablets but is quick acting taking around 30 minutes to take effect. This can be used in conjunction with skullcap and valerian tablets.
5) Zylkene capsules have been developed to help animals overcome stressful periods or situations. It is a once daily treatment given in food however it takes five to seven days to take effect. It has been developed from a herbal remedy and is very safe and is effective in most mild cases.
5) Serene-UM Tablets – a natural remedy to calm and pacify dogs and cats. Does not cause drowsiness and can be used for long periods as it does not have side effects. This remedy is useful for dogs that are mild to moderately stressed to prevent the fear becoming worse each year.
6) Valium/Diazepam – this is an anti-anxiety drug which has an amnesic effect. In other words if it is used during or immediately after a frightening situation the pet will forget that it was frightened. This is helpful in stopping predictive fear, for example, the dog which will not go out when it is dark in case a firework goes off. At high doses it will also cause sedation but it is not tolerated well in all dogs so it needs a veterinary check and discussion before it can be prescribed. It can be used in conjunction with the DAP or Selgian. (See below).
7) ACP Tablets – sedatives which have a tranquillising effect which may be quite prolonged. Individual dogs and cats vary in their tolerance of this drug but it will usually produce drowsiness, in-coordination and reduced response to outside stimuli. They are best administered well before the anticipated stressful event and as they will cause a drop in blood pressure they need to be used with care in elderly patients or those with heart conditions. They should not be used in any dogs or cats which have had a seizure. A veterinary assessment needs to be made before these tablets can be prescribed. They are quite cheap but we always worry that the drug may not reduce the anxiety, just stop the pet responding!
8) Selgian Tablets – selegiline changes the level of certain chemicals in the brain and is used to treat phobias such as sound sensitivity in dogs and excessive fear of fireworks. It reduces fear and encourages a faster return to normal behaviour and can be used in a specific program of desensitisation and counter conditioning to treat sound phobias in dogs. It needs to be given daily through the whole of the fireworks period starting two weeks before they start. It can be used in conjunction with the DAP or with Diazepam but not with ACP. This drug requires a veterinary assessment and prescription. If you wish to discuss desensitising your dog to fireworks, thunder etc then please ask at reception.
9) Rescue Remedy - This is a homeopathic remedy that some owners report helps in some pets.
Long Term Options:
This is the cornerstone of treating phobias because it is the only method that offers the opportunity of producing lasting improvements. Usually the approach used is to desensitise the pet to the noise they react to and then use a technique known as counter-conditioning to replace the conditioned emotional response of fear.
There are various CD based programmes you can buy that will help you with this, but it is very difficult to get it right first time, and we would strongly recommend using a programme recommended by our nurse counsellor who will help you through the programme and ensure that you get the best results you can.
These CD based programmes are best used in conjunction with both DAP diffusers and medication, often Selgian tablets, as these help the programme work faster and better.
If your pet is having problems with Fireworks or other noises, please ask to see either a vet or a nurse counsellor, who will help you decide what is the best thing to do both in the short term and in the long term.