Dogs And Fireworks.

The days are getting shorter, the leaves are tumbling from the trees and pretty soon the firework season will be upon us.

We live in Greater London and fireworks are no longer confined to one night, or even one weekend. They go off for months around here! They usually start in October, carry on through November and December and tail off after January.

We have a sound phobic collie so for him that’s 4 months of terror. Our poor old dog stays upstairs, either under our bed or in the shower(!), unless the fireworks are very close. Then he comes downstairs and sits pressed up against us and pants. 

I was worried that our younger dog would copy his behaviour and develop a sound phobia as well, but so far, she seems fine.

Our old dog is obviously frightened by fireworks but at least he’s not destructive in his efforts to hide from the noise. And he’s not alone. About 50% of the UK’s dogs suffer from noise phobia, the most common reactions are to fireworks, thunder or firearms.

Owners of sound phobic dogs often choose not to seek help for their pet’s condition, believing they will grow out of it. Only 4% of dogs do recover spontaneously; the rest suffer with each firework season and may get worse as time goes on.

But your four-legged friend doesn’t have to suffer. There are things you can do to help a sound phobic dog. When Bonfire Night is so close, there is no point in embarking on any long term therapy, as it’s crucial that patients are not exposed to their fears while undergoing treatment.

Short-term management is the way to go during Autumn. When fireworks are going off. don’t lock your dog in a small space or try and restrain them, as blind panic can make a dog destructive or aggressive. Provide them with unrestricted access to where ever they want to hide. Don’t attempt to comfort your pet, but try and stay relaxed as your dog will take behaviour cues from you. Stroking them and comforting noises will just reaffirm their belief that loud noises are something to be scared of.

Don’t forget that your vet can prescribe drugs that will can help a sound phobic dog cope.

ACP used to be the drug of choice for sedation of these dogs bu  it is no longer recommended.  We now know, that unless it is used at an extremely high dose, that it does nothing to lessen the impact of loud noises or reduce the animal’s level of anxiety. So, dogs treated with ACP may be immobilised, but they are completely aware of any sounds around them and respond emotionally as they would were they not sedated.  Because of this ACP can actually make a drugged dog’s phobia worse.

Your vet may prescribe Diazepam, which is useful for sound phobias, as at low doses it causes events to be less clearly remembered and so will not worsen your pets phobia. At higher doses it can make them less anxious and cause sedation. Alprazolam is another human drug that can be used to reduce anxiety and help a sound phobic dog forget an otherwise terrifying event. Both drugs can have variable onset of action and effects, so should be trialled first during a quiet, non-stressful time and a drugged dog should never be left home alone.

A DAP Diffuser may also come in useful for a mildly anxious dog. If your dog is so scared he or she is destroying your house, or urinating inside, then it’s unlikely to be much help. But if your pet is only panting and hiding in response to fireworks, then a diffuser will at least give them an area of the house where they will feel less anxious.

By treating your dog’s phobia behaviourally, with drugs and with a DAP diffuser, you and your dog will get through this years firework season, but once it’s over,  it is important to treat the problem so that it is less severe in the future.

Behavioural therapy, sometimes combined with medication or pheromones, can achieve this and I will post about this in more detail at the end of January.






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