Taking away the fear factor

Doug Patterson
Doug Patterson

We are now only one month away from our annual celebration of the work of a certain Mr Fawkes.

Pet owners dread this time of year almost as much as children delight in it! It’s a familiar sight – as the first rockets whoosh into the sky, your dog disappears under the dining room table and turns into a shivering wreck, who won’t even be tempted out by his or her favourite meat-based snack!

Research has shown as many as 80 per cent of pets might be scared of fireworks. A fear response is a normal mechanism. The trouble comes when the fear becomes engrained.

Pets can become hypersensitive to noise and the fear response can change from being elicited by just fireworks to any loud noise. So what do we do?

Start now! Plan ahead, a few weeks before the event.

Pheromones: ‘Adaptil’ and ‘Feliway’ are well known and widely used “happy” pheromones for dogs and cats. They come in plug in diffuser formats, and as collars for dogs and sprays for cats. They aid general relaxation and will take the edge off most fear behaviors. In severe cases they are unlikely to be enough by themselves, but are a useful addition to any treatment strategy. You need to start using these two weeks in advance.

Drugs: Please see your vet. Sedatives and diazepam (Valium) are used with success. Now is the time to make an approach to your vet to get medication in advance

Reassurance: Never punish your dog or cat for being scared, this will make matters worse. Equally, do not over fuss them. This vital point is missed by many who think they’re doing the right thing by cuddling up to their scared pet. In fact, over-reassurance reinforces the fear. It confirms there is a real thing to be scared of. It is far better for you to carry on as normal, showing there’s nothing to worry about.

Environment: Make your pet a safe den to hide in. Cover up a corner of the room with a blanket or provide a dark quiet room for your pet to hide in. Remember not to over-fuss!

Food: Know that feeling after a large four-course meal when your tummy is full? You get very sleepy! The science is that the release of insulin works alongside endorphin release to cause a sleepy feeling. It works on pets as well. In advance of the noise starting (because if they are already scared they won’t want to eat), offer them a large meal.