Now is the Time to Start Preparing for Fireworks Season

Although it may seem like fireworks season is a long way away, it is important to start desensitising activities early to help your pets cope. The majority of pets are most fearful of the loud sudden noises caused by fireworks, including the high frequency noises and flashes of light in the sky.

Desensitisation can help to combat these firework fears in our pets, by reducing fear and anxiety through gradual exposure to objects or stimuli that resemble the feared situation.

Vet Elliott has created a useful video with some tips and advice on how to help your pets deal with noise. 

CLICK ON THE PICTURE TO PLAY THE VIDEO

Hello and thank you for spending some of your time coming to watch this webinar about helping your pets ahead of the fireworks season. My name is Elliott Payne and I’m one of the small animal vets at Larkmead.

This webinar will briefly go over fears and phobias, and then we’ll discuss how we go about trying to treat them with the use of these therapies: desensitisation and counter-conditioning

Noise sensitivity is a common behavioural problem in dogs. One major study reported that almost half of dog owners (49%) stated that their dog was fearful of loud noises such as fireworks.

This fearfulness to fireworks and loud noises may then develop to other common noises in the house, such as keys, kitchen utensils and even food packaging. They may even extrapolate from the initial fearful sounds to now smells, or seeing particular items as they are indirectly linked to fireworks such as flashes or bright lights and moving colours.

So to try and quickly describe fears and phobias can be quite hard as there is a general overlap in the definition between the two.

But essentially with fear, there is an emotional response to an existing situation that has been deemed as potentially dangerous, and this emotional response may have worked in the past, even though we feel it is an inappropriate behaviour that they are showing.

These inappropriate responses prepare the animal to act towards the supposed danger in either a defensive or offensive nature- the so-called fight or flight term. This causes the animals heart and breathing rate to increase, the muscles to tighten, cause sweaty paws and a general adrenaline rush so that they will be able to either fight the threatening danger, or run away from it.

A phobia is an intense fear and can remain present even if the affecting danger stimulus has been removed. Phobias may be triggered if any association to the event occurs, such as preparing fireworks in the ground or forming a bonfire well before the night they get lit.

In humans, one of the most well-known and common phobias is that of the fear of spiders that affects 48% of women and 12% of men. I will discuss more on that shortly

So what is it about fireworks that causes our pets to become fearful?

The majority of pets find the top 3 of the list the most fearful- that being the loud sudden noises, high frequency noises and flashes of light in the sky. However, other aspects may also be involved such as having multiple visitors coming to the house to socialise in the garden, the animal being trapped indoors for their own safety, or even the smell of fireworks and bonfires.
Barometric pressure in thunderstorm-sensitive animals has also been known where the animal becomes fearful even before the first flash or thunder noise has begun.

Knowing the specific cause can help you minimise the impact fireworks have on your animal by using steps to help your animal deal with the situation.

So what are these inappropriate behaviours?

When we think of signs of fear in our animals, we tend to think of them as cowering away and trembling, crying out, or even wetting themselves. However, signs can far more subtle such as licking lips or swallowing a little more, ears tilted, or even just sleeping in the hallway instead of the living room.

It is important to recognise these mild signs as they can escalate over time to the firework noise, or they may start to become generalised where your pet then becomes fearful of other sounds, lights or movements.

In a worst case scenario, they can progress to becoming fear aggressive to their owners

So, how are we going to combat these firework fears in our pets?

Well, it may be easier to relate it back to our favourite friend, the spider. So for the majority of us, seeing one small spider is enough to cope with either ignoring it, or kindly moving him elsewhere.

But, if we imagine if this is the case where we were inundated with these spiders, with no safe zone to run and protect ourselves from them.

This is how some people with arachnophobia think about when they see a spider, and how some pets feel that they cannot get away from these dangerous fireworks.

In order for arachnophobes to slowly be able to cope with spiders, the most common therapy is desensitisation

This is a term used for reducing fear and anxiety through gradual exposure to objects or stimuli that resemble the feared situation.

So we see that gradually getting over the fear of the spider by taking small steps and eventually interacting with it, which if done straight away, would have been a lot more fearful.

So with our pets, that’s the exact same line of thinking of getting them used to fireworks.

Using quiet firework noises that your dog is hardly going to notice and gradually over time and repeated episodes, getting them used to these sounds, you can increase the noise levels so that they become accustomed to them.

You can use your own firework noises if you happen to have any, or by searching through the internet or youtube, but the far simplist option is by using the sounds scary programme that is available online and can also get it on CD, but they are not as common these days

Sounds Scary was developed by internationally renowned vets that are experts in animal behaviour that use the programme to help their noise-phobic patients. This programme has enabled dog owners to help their own pets using the same techniques.

Since Sounds Scary was launched in 2001, it has been used by many thousands of dog owners and it is still the first-choice product of vets and professional dog behaviourists internationally.

The programme comes with a booklet that goes through every step of desensitisation in an easy to read fashion and helpfully contains information on the next step of managing fear of fireworks, and that is counter-conditioning

Counter-conditioning allows the desensitised dog to then associate the noises that they used to be afraid of with something nice such as food or toys. Briefly, this is done by preparing your pet’s meal, or starting to get them interested in playing a game, starting the sounds scary sounds on a low level and then feeding or playing with them. As soon as the animal stops playing or finishing their meal, the sounds are then switched off. Eventually over time, you can reach the level where your pet associated the sound with feeding, similar to the old researcher Pavlov, and his dogs.

Using counter conditioning will make the animal much happier and playful in the future when hearing the previously fearful noises.

The final excellent thing about the Sounds Scary programme is that it is totally free to download through the dogs trust website. Here is the link, or you can just google ‘dogs trust sound therapy for pets’. There are other programmes that are free to use too on the same website.

There is no sign up involved and there’s instant access to the tracks and the associated programme guide, so please check it out later.

Here’s a brief snippit of the sounds scary programme in action. This is josh who you can see prick up his ears and look every now and again, but still maintains his happy wagging tail, suggesting that he is coping with that current level of noise.
Also note the nice weather seen outside as this video was taken early in the year before fireworks season. It is suggested that these training sessions should begin at least 2 months prior to the noise season and that providing short regular training sessions that take place up to eight times a week is far more effective and beneficial than performing longer, more infrequent sessions

So the final topic is extra help to calming behaviour with the use of pheromones and nutraceuticals. Adaptil here, is the only product that has been scientifically proven to aide in behavioural programme and results in a greater reduction in dog’s clingy behaviour towards their owner, and also decreases restlessness and drooling.

Other products may help during the lead up to fireworks night such as zylkene and calmex. These products, along with other information and techniques to help support your pet on fireworks night is available as a booklet through the Larkmead website, with the link shown below.

Use of medications may be required if there are extreme reactions to the lowest, barely audible sounds on desensitisation CDs and programmes. Therefore, having a consultation with a vet, a behaviourist, or ideally both is indicated to prevent your pet actually becoming worse.

So in summary, noise sensitive animals show inappropriate behaviours because they have worked in the past. The use of multiple treatments may be required to help your pet, but long term therapy is far more preferential and beneficial, but this must be started way before the firework season starts, and the use of short term tips and medications can help alleviate some of the remaining symptoms, if present.
Medications are complementary to the above treatments and not as a sole substitute as they will never improve with just medication alone.

And that just leaves me to say thank you for listening to the end, and please check out the links below to expand on this webinar. If there is any further information that you require, please contact one of our surgeries.

Thank you again and good bye.

 

Useful Links:

Dogs Trust Sounds Scary