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Posts Tagged ‘fireworks’

FIREWORK PHOBIAS – IT MAY BE TOO LATE BUT IT IS NEVER TOO EARLY

It may seem odd to talk about firework phobias just after the main firework period has passed. However, I know that recent problems you may have experienced with your dogs will be very fresh in your mind, often painfully so. Recent studies show that the majority of dogs will react to fireworks in some way, and often we see this as acceptable. Yet for approximately one in ten dogs, they will develop a true phobia. Equally, many dogs tend to show progressively distressing behaviour towards fireworks year on year. Dogs initially showing mild to moderate fear may progress to severe phobias later in life unless proactive measures are taken as soon as possible. To take action NOW is the key to dealing with this distressing condition.
How scared is my dog of fireworks?
The first step in managing a firework phobia is to identify if it truly exists. Over the years Behavioural Specialists have developed and refined a Sound Sensitivity Questionnaire. This questionnaire is now available free of charge – CLICK HERE. This will help you identify if your dog has a true phobia to fireworks and outline how to manage the level of fear that exists. This will then help prevent your dog’s level of fear increasing over time. Now is an ideal time to take the questionnaire while your memories of what your dog experienced are fresh. By completing the questionnaire repeatedly over time you will also be able to assess if your dog’s behaviour is in fact improving.

Behavioural therapy
A long term goal should be to generally improve our dogs’ reactions to fireworks. One of the proven techniques to achieve this is Sound Desensitisation and Counterconditioning. The tools required for this are now available free of charge on www.dogstrust.org.uk. There are free downloads for the sounds required and very thorough instructions on how to undertake this type of therapy. This technique has strong evidence in helping dogs with firework phobias (and can in fact be extended to other noise phobias such as storms and gunshot noises), but should only be started once all chance of fireworks happening have passed. The complete program should be expected to take from three to six months and needs to be undertaken thoroughly. To undertake the full program takes time and commitment, yet should truly help your dog long-term.

Long term therapies
For some of our dogs a firework phobia may be just the tip of the iceberg. It may be part of a more generalised phobia or anxiety condition. If your dog shows severe responses to firework noises, or perhaps is fearful of every day noises, such as doors slamming or traffic, then it may be sensible to speak to one of our vets to discuss approaches which may help with broader behavioural concerns. These can take several months to be take effect, so again now is the best time to consider these type of treatments.

Coping strategies
Most dogs will be aware of and react to fireworks. Many have developed their own ways of coping with them. Yet for others they have no way of coping with the extreme noises from fireworks. This will often result in our dogs frantically pacing around the house in a very distressed manner, or they may simply try and hide, often unsuccessfully. One proven technique for helping our dogs to cope is the combination of providing a safe den, alongside the use of either an Adaptil collar or plug in. Details on how to provide these, as well as advice on how we should behave, are available on www.adaptil.com. Remember, there is good evidence that these techniques significantly help dogs with firework phobias. Again, we should consider “training” our dogs to feel positive about using a den, and so they should be put in place at least one to two months before the fireworks start, and to positively reward our dogs for using them. The den itself can even be used throughout the year to act as a coping mechanism for other phobias such as thunderstorms.

Short term therapies
For pets where we have not had enough time to undertake the above strategies, then we may need to use medications to help at the time of the fireworks, for example New Year’s Eve. The aim of these should be to reduce anxiety and fear rather than to simply sedate. For some of these medications there is no predictable dose for each individual dog. Therefore, they will need to be tried before the time of the fireworks as a change of dose may be required depending on how your individual dog responds.



In summary, we need to plan ahead with dealing with firework phobias. This is not a problem to be dealt with on the 5th of November! Take action NOW to really make a difference for this truly distressing condition which many of our pets suffer with. Take the first step at home – complete the Sound Sensitivity Questionnaire. It is easy and free of charge. If after this you need any help or guidance, please contact us for an appointment.
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Bang! Whoosh! Pop! : Preparing for Fireworks Season

As the clocks go back and the nights draw in, it can be a very distressing time of the year, for both pets and their owners. Over 40% of dogs in the UK are reported to suffer with a fear of fireworks. It should also be remembered that cats will also suffer with the fireworks.

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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Absolutely avoid any form of punishment. This will simple lead to more anxiety and even cause your pet to become aggressive.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Dietary supplements such as omega-3 supplements, zylkene and calmex again may help some dogs with mild phobias.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
The expected outcome for helping animals with firework phobia should be good if we follow and commit to a thorough desensitisation program. This will take time and patience. It has also been recognised that many animals who suffer with firework phobia also experience other behavioural issues such as Generalised Anxiety Disorder or Separation Anxiety. If you feel this may apply to you and if you are truly committed to your animal’s emotional well-being, there are many qualified people to help both you and your pet. Don’t be frightened to ask for help!
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Fireworks -It’s that time of the year again!


As the clocks go back and the nights draw in, it can be a very distressing time of the year, for both pets and their owners. Over 40% of dogs in the UK are reported to suffer with a fear of fireworks. It should also be remembered that cats will also suffer with the fireworks.

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.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Absolutely avoid any form of punishment. This will simple lead to more anxiety and even cause your pet to become aggressive.

5. 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, firm massaging strokes, rather than normal petting.

6. Create a “safe haven” by covering 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. Pheromone treatments area available such as Adaptil. These are available as a plug-in and collar and  may help some dogs. We also now stock Pet Remedy plug-in’s that contains a blend of essentials oils that are Valerian based.

10. Dietary supplements such as zylkene  may help some dogs with mild phobias.

11. 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.

12. 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.

The expected outcome for helping animals with firework phobia should be good if we follow and commit to a thorough desensitisation program. This will take time and patience. It has also been recognised that many animals who suffer with firework phobia also experience other behavioural issues such as Generalised Anxiety Disorder or Separation Anxiety. If you feel this may apply to you and if you are truly committed to your animal’s emotional well-being, there are many qualified people to help both you and your pet. Don’t be frightened to ask for help!
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