Fear of Fireworks   Leave a comment

By Niki Elliott – ThinkingPets.com
Unfortunately this is the time of year when fireworks are being set off in all our neighbourhoods, and every year the noise level of these fireworks increases. It is like living in the middle of a war zone in some areas. Many dogs and cats are developing bad reactions to fireworks as well as gunshots and other loud noises. A little fear or anxiety in response to loud noises is normal for animals as well as people but when these fearful responses are out of proportion to the real threat, the animals revert back to survival mode and this is where it becomes a problem.
It is vitally important to try and prepare your pets to help them get through the night of terror with the least amount of stress.
Make a safe place for your pet to go into. You will probably have noticed that your pet goes into the shower, under a bed or even into the garage when he is anxious or feels threatened. Make this place more comfortable, maybe even darker. Put his most favourite bed in there and encourage him to go and settle there, even when there is no noise going on. Put some of his favourite toys in there and some really tasty chewies. Get your pet to go in there and enjoy the chewies when he is not afraid. That way he will “like” his shelter and associate it with good things and will want to go there when times get tough.
Often the problem is made worse because your pet doesn’t know where to go to escape. These are the animals who end up just running wildly on the street or forcing themselves through security gates in an attempt to get away from the noise. You need somewhere for them to hide. Choose a room that is naturally quiet in the centre of the house and has no windows. Prepare this place well in advance. If your dog tends to try and dig or burrow to get away from the noise then put lots of blankets down for him. Put a piece of your clothing with your smell on down for him as well. Your scent will be a familiar smell and will comfort your pet. One person I know has built a bomb shelter in their garden for their dog to go into!
Put a DAP for dogs and Feliway for cats diffuser, obtainable from your Vet, in the cat or dog’s hiding place or get the DAP/Feliway Calming Collar to put on your pet or use the DAP/Feliway spray in the area. If you are using the diffuser, it should be left operating 24 hours a day, do not switch it on and off trying to save electricity – this just uses up more of the liquid in a shorter space of time. Install the diffuser a few weeks before the firework event and until 2 weeks after. There are always fireworks going off for a few days before and after the actual date. DAP/Feliway is a pheromone that helps pets feel much more relaxed and confidant when they might otherwise be stressed. Close the windows, draw the curtains and put on some music. Music with a good beat is best. This will minimise the amount of noise coming into the room from outside. You don’t want your pet to see the flashes of the fireworks as they explode.
You can leave some food and water for your pet as well as some chewies and familiar high value toys. This will help reduce the tension and make him feel better, but some animals are so fearful that they are physically unable to eat once the noise starts. Their bodies had flipped over into survival mode and the main organs have shut down allowing the body to prepare for flight. It is a good idea to make sure that your pet has emptied his bladder an hour before the noise starts. The place you and your pet decide is the best place must be accessible to your pet at all times. It is vital to make sure that doors are leading into and out area are not likely to shut and trap your pet inside or out of the room. On the day of the fireworks give your dog a large stodgy carbohydrate rich meal in the late afternoon. Pasta, mashed potato or overcooked rice is ideal, and will help to make him feel calm and sleepy as the night draws in.
If your vet has given you medication to reduce your pet’s fears make sure that you follow the prescription precisely. Also start with the medication long before the noise starts, otherwise it is too late and often won’t make any difference at all.
As soon as the fireworks start take your pet to his hiding place and encourage him to stay there. Don’t get cross with him when he is scared, it will only make him more frightened. Also don’t mollycoddle your pet. This will make him think there is something to be afraid of. Ignore his fearful behaviour and play games with him using treats as a reward. We want him to associate fireworks with a great game and some tasty treats.
You can also get some ear plugs to block out some of the noise. Just make sure they fit properly, you don’t want to hurt your pet’s ears when you push them in, nor do you want to push them in too far. Just far enough for them to block the ear canal and yet accessible for you to remove once the fireworks are over.
You will need to get some professional help to sort out your pet’s noise problem. Do this before New Year which will be the next time we will probably experience fireworks. Many animals can be treated using behavioural methods called desensitisation and counter conditioning. Specially made recordings of fireworks can be used to train animals not to react to the noises they fear and a CD called Sounds Scary from Kyron can be obtained from your Vet.
TTouch, which is a method of working with fearful animals, can be used to help your pet overcome its fear of fireworks. TTouch builds confidence and a confident animal is not a fearful animal. TTouch combines bodywork, which is certain touches with ground work exercises. These exercises boost the animal’s confidence. There is also a Thundershirt that can be used to help calm your pet. If you don’t have one of these you can use a dog coat or T-shirt. Secure it around the belly with a piece of elastic or make a knot on the back with a scrunchie. This can have a calming effect on your pet like a swaddling blanket on a baby. Doing some of touches on your pet’s ears will also help to calm your pet and most dogs really love it. If you decide to do touch work on your pet, don’t wait until the
fireworks start! You’ll be much more successful if you do the work before to relieve tensions in the body and boost your pet’s confidence. Then when the fireworks start, he’ll be less likely to react. By working with your pet before the firework “season” it will already be established as something good and not necessarily associated with the fireworks. There are names of all the TTouch Practitioners in
different area of the country on the TTouch website http://www.ttouchsa.co.za if you want some help with learning the touches.
Groundwork through a Confidence course helps to bring more awareness to the body of your pet. This is usually done for dogs but you can do some of the exercises with a cat. Simple exercises at a slow pace, allow the animal to feel its body in perfect balance. Set up a simple maze in your garden and lead your pet through it slowly. Put down some poles and see how well your pet picks up its
feet over them. Use dome boards on tyres for your pet to walk over. The more successful he is the better he will feel about himself and when the noise starts it won’t bother him as much.
Never punish an animal that is fearful of loud noises, this will only make the situation worse as he will associate the punishment with the noise and fear the noise even more. Also don’t flood your animal with loud noises, trying to show him there is nothing to be afraid of. This will make him even more fearful. If you have the Sound Scary CD only play it softly as back ground noise. You should
barely be able to hear it. Your pet’s hearing is so much better than yours.

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