APPROXIMATELY HALF OF THE UK’S DOG POPULATION is thought to have a problem with loud noises, with fireworks being the most common noise to trigger a fear response. Often dogs that find fireworks challenging also find other loud noises such as thunderstorms a problem.
A SAVSNET study in conjunction with BSAVA and the University of Bristol (2014) found that out of over 100,000 consultations between September 2012 and July 2014, fireworks fears were only mentioned in 75. So what can be done to encourage more owners to ask for help?
Eye-catching waiting room displays can raise awareness of sound sensitivities and noise phobias and the preventive measures that can be put in place to help pets. It is also advisable to update information on the practice website, newsletter and social media to target those who visit the practice less often.
Jon Bowen (behaviour consultant at the Royal Veterinary College) and Jaume Fatjo have developed a Sound Sensitivity Questionnaire (SSQ), which can help dog owners identify whether their dog has a sound sensitivity and provide them with advice on the best way to help their dog cope with reworks, which may involve a vet appointment if the sensitivity is severe.
This questionnaire can be accessed through the Adaptil website and a link can be added to the practice website or social media page to help prompt owners to seek help.
Advice for dog owners
Dog owners should prepare a den for their dog to hide in while fireworks are going off. Ideally this should be prepared at least a couple of weeks in advance if the dog doesn’t already have a safe place so the dog is accustomed to using it. It is advisable to create the den in an area where the dog already feels safe. Covering the den helps to protect the dog from both the noise and flashing lights of fireworks.
Ensuring the dog can access the den at all times is important. Healthy treats and a favourite toy in the den will help the dog to use the space and learn that it is their safe spot. To further enhance the den, an Adaptil Diffuser can be plugged in nearby. Adaptil Spray can also be applied to the dog’s bedding on the night of the event to give additional support.
The use of Adaptil (a synthetic copy of the dog-appeasing pheromone) has been shown to reduce anxiety and help dogs cope with challenging situations, including rework events (Sheppard and Mills, 2003; Landsberg et al, 2015) and can be used alongside other measures required to manage the problem.
Easy access to water from the den is required as an anxious dog may pant more. Further tips include:
- Ensure dogs are taken out for a walk/to the toilet before it gets dark so they are not caught unaware by early reworks.
- Owners should act normal to help the pet feel more settled. If a pet hides in a corner or under a bed, the owner should leave it alone and not try to coax it out. Overly fussing a pet that appears frightened should not be encouraged as this can increase the dependence the dog has on the owner; instead try to distract the dog with a chew toy or game. Also, a pet should not be punished as this increases the intensity of the emotional experience.
- Keep curtains closed and have the TV or radio on.
- Massage therapy, anxiety wrap or dietary support (either diets or supplements containing amino acids such as L-tryptophan, L-theanine or alpha-caseozepine) have some evidence for their benefit during loud noises (Cottam et al, 2013; Michelazzi et al, 2010; Pike et al, 2015).
What about drug therapy?
Medicines may be required in the short term to enable a patient to cope with an inevitable event or as a long-term treatment alongside behavioural modification techniques over a period of weeks and months (Bowen and Heath, 2005).
Benzodiazepines facilitate GABA in the CNS and as the limbic system has a high density of GABAA receptors, benzodiazepines work well to help dogs with noise aversion problems (Levine, BSAVA).
As responses to benzodiazepines can be individual, at least one trial dose should be given at a quiet, non-stressed time in order to identify a dose effect, speed of onset and any adverse effects.
- Diazepam produces short-term anxiolytic effects and impairs the ability to remember events that are experienced immediately after a dose.
- Alprazolam is a triazolobenzodiazepine that also has anxiolytic and anterograde amnesic effects. Alprazolam can be used in advance of an anticipated event, but it also impairs the emotional memory of the event if given afterwards (Crowell-Davies et al, 2003).
Desensitisation and counter-conditioning are effective methods for treating sound sensitivities. However, the dog needs to be able to be relaxed during this training, so the reworks season needs to have passed.
A referral to a qualified behaviourist should be considered. A list can be found on the Animal Behaviour and Training Council website (http://www.abtcouncil.org.uk).
Advice for cat owners
While cats are not thought to develop noise fears and phobias as dogs do, they are still startled by fireworks. Cats may bolt when reworks go off and and themselves a long way from home.
Ensuring clients’ cats are kept in after dark and are microchipped can help cats be reunited with their owners. Once inside, there should be adequate resources provided, including access to litter trays and places to hide. A Feliway Classic Diffuser can be used to provide a reassuring environment in the area they choose to spend most time in. Feliway Spray can also be applied to a cat’s bedding on the night of the event to provide additional support.
Conflict between cats may be seen when they are confined after dark during the season. A Feliway Friends Diffuser can help reduce conflicts and aggression between housemate cats and can be used alongside Feliway Classic if necessary.
Please note not all medicines mentioned in this article have a licence for veterinary use in the UK.
- Cottam, N., Dodman, N. and Ha, J. (2013) The effectiveness of the Anxiety Wrap in the treatment of canine thunderstorm phobia: An open-label trial. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour 8: 154-161.
- Landsberg, G., Beck, A., Lopez, A., Deniaud, M., Araujo, J. and Milgram, N. (2015) Dog-appeasing pheromone collars reduce sound-induced fear and anxiety in beagle dogs: a placebo-controlled study; doi: 10.1136/vr.103172.
- Michelazzi, M., Berteselli, G., Minera, M. and Cavallone, E. (2010) Effectiveness of L-theanine and behavioral therapy in the treatment of noise phobias in dogs.
- Pike, A., Horwitz, D. and Lobprise, H. (2015) An open-label prospective study of the use of L-theanine (Anxitane) in storm sensitive client- owned dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour 10: 324-331.