Animals who do differ with firework phobias will display a range of problems, varying from those animals who simply bark at the fireworks to try and make them go away, those that hide from them, those that show obvious signs of distress, right through to those that appear to “freeze”. For us as owners, these signs can be greatly distressing to see. Yet for the animals this fear will not only cause emotional trauma, but often lead to physical injuries as well.
So what do we, as pet owners, do to try and reduce the problems our animals suffer due to firework phobias? Simply put, there is not one simple solution. Yet, by adopting numerous strategies, we should be able make this time of year easier for our cats and dogs.
The following strategies may apply to a greater or lesser extent to certain individual situations, and often many different approaches need to be taken at the same time.
- If at all possible avoid the fireworks, which is easier said than done these days. If you do have a friend who lives in a remote area consider spending time with them on the worst of the fireworks, for example when the local display is on. Sadly, we all known that now firework “night” seems to last many weeks.
- To reduce the impact of the sound of fireworks you can try to create competing noises such as loud music. Remember not to play this too loudly as this noises itself may end up causing anxiety. In extreme cases noise-cancelling headphone can be used. “Mutt Muffs” are available through www.safeandsoundpets.com.
- It may seem obvious, but do close blinds and curtains well before any fireworks start to reduce the effects the sights the fireworks have on our animals.
- Absolutely avoid any form of punishment. This will simple lead to more anxiety and even cause your pet to become aggressive.
- Comforting you animal when they are scared is a controversial area. Definitely try to be at home during any known firework events. Although you shouldn’t pet or over fuss your animal when they are worried, as this can reinforce the fearful behaviour, it may help some pets to hold them firmly and lean into them, while using long, form massaging strokes, rather than normal petting.
- Create a “safe haven” cover an indoor crate with a blanket and put their bedding and one or two familiar toys inside. This will become a darkened den for them in which to hide, but it’s a good idea to try to get them used to this area before firework season.
- In many situations the most helpful method to help control firework phobias is through the use of a technique called desensitisation and counter conditioning. Essentially, this is getting your pets used to the sounds of fireworks by playing a CD at a volume that doesn’t provoke a fearful reaction, and rewarding them for this non-reaction. The volume is gradually increased, and a strict programme followed over several weeks to months. This needs to be, therefore, started well before firework season and should not be undertaken if fireworks are likely to start soon. One of the most successful programs is Sounds Scary and is available through www.soundtherapy4pets.co.uk for less than £10. If your pet suffers from firework phobia we would strongly recommend purchasing this now and to start the program in the New Year once all the fireworks have finished, and to then consider repeating the program next summer.
- Various medications are available to reduce our pets’ anxieties. These medications are used alongside a behaviour modification plan such as the desensitisation and counter conditioning described above, and need to be started weeks or months prior to the fireworks starting. Often at the hospital we asked at the last minute to supply something to help to calm pets. Medications are available that reduce anxiety in the short term, and will help at the time but have no lasting effect – your pet will again suffer with the same fears next year. A key point for owners is not to be scared to use these drugs. By not medicating animals when appropriate we may be simply prolonging their suffering.
- Pheromone treatments area available such as Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats. These are available as a plug-in, collar and now a tablet and may help some animals, but not all.
- Dietary supplements such as omega-3 supplements, zylkene and calmex again may help some dogs with mild phobias.
- It is now possible to purchase a tight fighting wrap such as an Anxiety Wrap which is design to apply constant pressure to help relax muscles. Studies suggest these may help some, but not all, dogs. They are available through www.anxietywrap.com.
- To date there has been no study which has successfully shown any definite beneficial effect for behavioural change for any homeopathic treatment studied in companion animals.
One workshop was based on Rabbit Airway Management under anaesthesia and the other workshop was all about Rabbit Dentistry.
We, as a practice, are always trying to keep up to date with the best techniques and information over a variety of subjects and are proud of our team for the work they put in.
The first step in reaching a diagnosis should be a thorough Vet check. This may be prompted by something we as owners have noticed, such as a sudden increase in bad breath, or a lack of wanting to play with toys. However, I know all too well how our pets often hide signs of mouth pain and appear fine. Often we as Vets pick up that a dental problem exists at a routine consultation such as a vaccination, or perhaps an unrelated problem such as a lump appearing on one of our animals.
I invariably find that if a dental problem is detected and treated as early as possible in the disease process, then a quicker, more favourable outcome can be achieved. Once treatment has been undertaken, owners will tell me how much happier their pets are, even if there appeared to be no obvious problem before the treatment was carried out. Over the past few years this has become increasingly aided by changes in equipment, in particular with the use of Digital Dental Radiography. We at MK Vet Group are extremely fortunate to have this facility at two of our sites, where it is used on a daily basis.
I often find myself quoting statistics to clients, such as two-thirds of animals over three years of age will have some form of dental disease. Yet on reflection I don’t find this particularly helpful. For example, if you have three pets, this does not mean that two of them will have dental disease. What I do find relevant with these statistics is simply to say that that dental disease is extremely common; it is not limited to elderly pets and often is present despite our animals seeming to be fine.
A typical case presented to me recently. An appointment was made for a relatively young cat as the owners had noted a swelling. This swelling was found to not require any treatment; however during the routine examination significant redness of the gums was noted throughout the mouth. It was discussed and agreed to examine this cat’s mouth fully under a general anaesthesia. Only then was it found that this cat suffered from a condition known as Type I/II tooth resorptive lesions affecting several teeth. This is a progressive and typically painful disease. The only effective treatment is extraction, which was carried out without complication.
The radiograph on the right shows three teeth in the lower jaw. The tooth to the left shows a normal healthy tooth. The tooth on the right shows the loss of the majority of the crown of the tooth, with the roots being actively converted to bone tissue similar to the normal jaw bone. The central tooth shows this condition in the early phases with a large, painful lesion seen – the black “hole” visible on the right side of the crown of the tooth. This condition would not have been diagnosed without the use of radiographs.
It is expected that this cat will make an excellent recovery and, rather than having difficulty eating with missing teeth, will now genuinely eat better than before for the simple reason that a painful disease process was recognised and treated promptly.
Pic: Rabbits with dental disease will often choose to eat soft food instead of grass or hay.
Dental disease is initially suspected when a rabbit is displaying appropriate signs. These include reduced appetite, changes in food preferences and increased salivation.
An examination can help confirm the suspicion of dental disease. Abnormalities such as facial swellings, overgrown incisors or horizontal ridges on the incisors can be detected at this point.
However, the oral cavity of the rabbit is very narrow and rabbits are unable to open their mouths wide. This makes examination of the cheek teeth very difficult in a conscious rabbit. A full dental examination therefore requires a general anaesthetic. This allows the mouth to be fully opened and the large cheeks to be moved to aside to allow visualisation of the cheek teeth.
Pic: Normal incisors (top) and incisor malocclusion (bottom). (Photos courtesy of Frances Harcourt-Brown www.harcourt-brown.com.uk).
The cheek teeth are examined for overgrowth, changes in orientation and malocclusion. The mouth is checked for any ulcers or cuts from abnormal teeth.
Spurs on the cheek teeth can be removed at this point using a dental burr. Examination under GA allows the section of the tooth that projects into the oral cavity to be examined. However, unlike cats and dogs, the majority of the crown of the rabbit’s tooth is actually embedded in the bones of the jaw. This section of the tooth also needs to be examined to allow full assessment of dental disease. This requires dental radiographs. These can be taken whilst the rabbit is under anaesthetic and will allow us to assess the full extent of dental disease
Pic: Spurs on the cheek teeth causing trauma to the mouth (photos courtesy of Frances Harcourt-Brown www.harcourt-brown.co.uk).
Left are two radiographs of the skull taken from two different rabbits during dental examination at Milton Keynes Veterinary Group. These radiographs show the long section of the crowns of the teeth embedded in the bones of the skull. This part of the crown is called the ‘reserve crown’ and is not visible during examination of the mouth. Rabbit 1 (top) does not have any evidence of dental disease. Rabbit 2 (bottom), however, has advanced dental disease. Many teeth are missing or have stopped growing. There are associated long term changes in the skull. These radiographs helped us to rule out dental disease in the rabbit 1, and to decide how to manage the dental disease in the rabbit 2.
Pic: Rabbit 1 (top) – normal dentition.
Pic: Rabbit 2 (bottom) – advanced dental disease.
Rabbits with dental disease will usually require repeat dental procedures under general anaesthetic. During these procedures, the crowns of the affected teeth are shortened to prevent trauma to the mouth and allow the rabbit to eat as normal. Many rabbits will also benefit from dietary modification to increase their calcium and fibre intake. Sometimes, we will recommend procedures such as removal of incisors or cheek teeth. Some cheek teeth can have their growth arrested by ‘pulpectomy.’ These procedures can prevent or reduce the frequency of recurrent dental procedures. These procedures are recommended if appropriate to the particular case.
Other Health Problems associated with Dental Disease
Rabbits with dental disease will often develop other problems as a result of their ongoing dental disease. These include:
- Infection in the nasolacrimal duct (called Dacrocystitis)
- Facial dermatitis
- Facial abscesses
- Gastric stasis
Fractured teeth are a common injury in cats and dogs, with the majority involving fractured canines of the upper jaw. Damage is commonly caused by falls, running into objects, clashing teeth and road traffic accidents. In dogs, other objects that can damage teeth include raw hide, bones, sticks/branches, rocks, ice and other hard objects.
The radiograph to the right shows a case of pulpitis in a cat. The pulp cavity is the hollow area inside a tooth filled with sensitive pulp tissue (blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue). This commonly occurs when the tip of the tooth is fractured, allowing bacteria to enter the pulp cavity. Swelling of the pulp tissue prevents blood entering the root canal and the result is ‘death’ of the tooth. On the radiograph we can see widening of the pulp cavity compared to the normal tooth on the right, with evidence of an abscess at the apex of the root. On this occasion the affected tooth was extracted. It is important to note that this problem was found during a routine dental, and the patient did not show any obvious mouth pain at the time, but the owner reported marked improvement in his demeanour and appetite following surgery. Due to high pain threshold and other instinctive behaviours, our patients rarely shows signs of pain and will often hide pain very well.
It is therefore important to never ignore a broken tooth in your pet.