Loud bangs and whistles of fireworks may be thrilling for us, but for your dog, it can be stressful and confusing.
A dog's hearing is much superior to our own, and so those loud bangs are all the more distressing to them. Flashes of light and the smell of fireworks can also become a trigger for stress and feelings of anxiety.
Many dogs show signs of distress when exposed to the sound of fireworks, these signs may be subtle, such as lip licking, yawning and panting but as they become more fretful they might pace around the house, tremble, toilet indoors and become destructive. Recognise that all of these signs are stress induced, do not discipline your dog but stay calm and reassuring. The following tips can help to prevent your dog becoming stressed by fireworks. It is much easier to be prepared and prevent your dog from becoming stressed than it is to calm a dog already showing signs of extreme mental anxiety.
AVOID WHEN POSSIBLE
If you life in a built up area where you know there will be lots of firework displays, think about leaving your pet with a friend in a quieter location that is familiar to them. Removing your dog from the fireworks is the easiest way to prevent them becoming stressed, however it is not always practical.
Desensitizing your dog to the sound of fireworks can help if used in the months and weeks leading up to firework season. These sounds can be found on Youtube, start by playing them quietly in the background whilst your dog is playing, eating or getting lots of attention. Gradually the volume of the firework sounds can be increased, and your dog should associate the sound with relaxed, happy times.
CREATE A REASSURING ENVIRONMENT
On Bonfire Night, ensure your dog has had lots of exercise during the day to help use up their energy reserves. Ensure all windows and doors are shut to muffle sounds and stop your pet from running away if they become frightened. Close curtains too, to block out any flashes of light. Put the television on to help drown out the firework sounds. Create a calm environment that may include a small den filled with familiar items, such as their dog bed or blanket. If you cannot stay with your dog leave an item of clothing with your scent for comfort.
KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON
Try to keep your home calm and controlled, your dog will look to you for cues on how it should be responding to these strange sounds. If you have children that are running and squealing with the excitement of the fireworks, then this may put your pet into a panic mode.
AVOID FIREWORK DISPLAYS
Do not be tempted to bring your dog along to a fireworks display. They will not understand what is happening and may become frightened and try to run away. Every year lots of dogs run away from their owners due to fear triggering the flight response. It is a natural survival response for your dog to want to run from a potential threat. Ensure that your dog has appropriate identification, ideally a microchip registered with your up-to-date contact details. A well-fitted collar and strong lead will also help to reduce the chances of escape.
There are many calming products for dogs on the market, such as thunder shirts, nutritional supplements and pheromone support. These products can be useful if used alongside careful environmental management, as described above. It is better to address the underlying causes of anxiety than to expect any calming product to work in isolation. Using calming products before your dog becomes stressed will be much more effective than using them to calm an already anxious dog.
If keeping a calm environment and using over-the-counter calming agents have not been enough to stop your dog suffering firework-induced stress, then speak to your vet about anxiety reducing medications. There have been recent advancements in the medications vets have available to them to reduce noise-related fear in dogs, without causing the sedative effects of older medications. Book your veterinary consultation in advance of Bonfire Night, so you have any medications ready to use when needed.
Protect My Pet wishes you and your pets a safe and enjoyable Bonfire Night.
Written by Lindsay Rose MA VetMB CertAVP CertVBM MRCVS.