Start early to prepare pets for the fireworks

Guy Fawkes’ Night is over for another year, and the festive season is approaching rapidly.

Fun at this time of year is often tainted by the stress of watching our pets become anxious. We will now have a short respite before it begins again with New Year celebrations.

A survey by the PDSA found that 73 per cent of owners had a pet who was afraid of fireworks, and for a quarter of them the fear had become a debilitating health problem. Phobias can ‘generalise’ so what started as a fear of fireworks can become a phobia of thunder, gunshots and other loud noises.

There are ways that we can help our furry friends. The most important is often the hardest to do: to continue to behave normally. It is tempting to try to reassure our pets; unfortunately this only teaches them that there is something to be frightened of.

Dogs feel safest when they have a secure ‘den’ in a quiet corner. Cats feel more secure when they can retreat somewhere high. Close the curtains and turn up the television, or play music with a repetitive beat. Avoid taking dogs for a walk after dark and keep cats indoors overnight. Make sure your pet has been micro-chipped so that if they run away they can be found.

If your pet found it difficult to cope with fireworks, book an appointment with your vet now to discuss options. Your vet may recommend pheromone therapy, dietary supplementation or prescription medications, or a combination of all three. Prevention is much better than cure. Your vet who will be able to refer you to a behaviourist, or help to formulate a behaviour modification plan.

The most effective way to deal with fear of noises is to follow a system of desensitisation. This means training your pet to deal with their anxiety, then gradually exposing them to increasing levels of ‘pretend’ firework noise. This is a slow process so starting in January ensures it does not have to be rushed through before next November. This should always be carried out under expert supervision as there is the potential to do more harm than good.

If you have a young puppy or kitten, you can take steps now to reduce the likelihood of them developing a phobia. Getting them used to normal sights and sounds is especially important during the ‘socialisation period’ around eight to 12 weeks old.

With the right help, our pets can learn to cope with fireworks, allowing us to relax and enjoy them too.

By CAROLYN DANBURY, Vet