PUBLISHED: 05:28 08 December 2014
It's that time of year again, the seemingly relentless celebrations that include filling the sky with the bright lights and loud sounds of fireworks. And while some people actively seek out bonfire celebrations and fireworks displays, pet owners have grown to despise this time of year as the celebrations are no longer just on Guy Fawkes night, but extend for weeks. The noise pollution caused by fireworks affects both pets and wildlife.
With pets, it is worth acknowledging that there is a difference between emotional states involved in fear, anxiety and phobias, but for the purposes of this article I will refer to these similar conditions as “phobias”. Very little is known about how exactly noise phobias are acquired and therefore different treatment plans may be needed for different pets and treatment outcomes will also vary. Although a lot of owners will report a traumatic experience as being the cause for their pet’s noise phobia, 60pc of owners report that their pet has not had a previous experience. The type of sounds dogs develop a defensive response to (thunder, gunshots, fireworks, engine noise) often have high decibels, can reach pain thresholds in people, lack a pattern and are impulsive – all characteristics that would incite a defensive or startle response. Couple that with stress, which reduces the pets’ ability to control their impulses – and the consequences we see are the onset of avoidance behaviours including aggression. Our houses often bear the brunt of this.
The important thing to remember is that dealing with a noise phobia in your pet cannot be solved overnight. Steps need to be taken well before bonfire night if you hope to see any benefit of treatment. As all pets are different and the initial cause of the problem is difficult to determine, it is worth video-recording your pet’s behaviour during a fearful episode and seeking veterinary assistance.
Treatment options include a combination of environmental modifications (closing blinds/curtains, conditioning the dog to wear earplugs, providing a safe “bolt hole” and playing background music or white noise), behavioural modification (desensitisation and counter-conditioning to a noise recording), dog appeasing pheromone (spray or collars), medications, and other ancillary aids (massage therapy including TTouch, music therapy, anxiety wraps or Thundershirts, diet and complementary therapies).
Important things to remember as the owner of a distressed and possibly destructive animal are that punishment is never an acceptable option as it will make the fear state even worse, and that your animal is not stupid, it is afraid. It is important to mention a potential problem to your vet at your annual check-ups and not ignore the situation if your pet only hides or pants.
Treatment can be effective but owners have to commit to a desensitisation program – and not all pets will respond to noise recordings. As the cause is often unknown, it is very difficult to prevent, but speak to your vet for helpful tips when your animal is still at a young age.