Fireworks, Fear and Flight

With the holiday season approaching, Vince the Vet reminds Westie owners of how to ease the stress for our frantic friends.

While Bonfire Night has thankfully gone, New Year’s Eve is just around the corner and for many pets, this means an extended period of loud noises assaulting sensitive ears, which trigger fight or flight reactions, anxiety, and stress.

Hopefully, there will be less pyrotechnics around this year because of Covid-19. However, this may lead to a rise in shrill whistles and bangs closer to home, as celebrations switch to back gardens and local clearings.

Until silent or low noise fireworks become much more widely adopted (the sooner the better), it is important to take steps to ensure a pet’s safety and minimise distress over the firework season – which in most areas now stretches from mid-October to the New Year.

This is especially important when thunder, lorries driving past, bins being emptied, or fireworks being let off in the past, has already resulted in signs of stress. These typically include one or more of the following: Restless pacing, barking or whining, panting, trembling, hiding , salivating , asking for more contact or reassurance than usual, wanting to be left alone, a heightened sensitivity to sound or touch, toileting in the house, refusing meals.

BEING PREPARED

Once fight or flight reactions are aroused, high levels of adrenaline and other ‘stress’ hormones coursing through the body, can make it extremely difficult to calm an affected pet down. Far more effective, is to help a pet remain calm, by ensuring that they feel as safe, secure and relaxed as possible at home, long before any fireworks are let off.

The following steps have proven invaluable, in this respect:

PLAN AHEAD

There is an old saying ‘well begun is half done.’ Putting stress-relieving measures in place early, and having the tools to hand that best help, increase the likelihood of a pet staying calm and comfortable throughout the festive season.

INCREASE ACTIVITY

Excess energy fuels anxiety, and the more this can be dissipated, the less reactive your dog is likely to be when the fireworks begin.

Vigorous walks and more of them is good for this (unless there is a health reason not to), as is playing games throughout the day.

Scent work and similar activities are particularly beneficial, as the concentration they require is much more tiring than physical exertion alone. And this can be as simple as hiding favourite treats in the garden to be hunted down.

MAINTAIN A REGULAR ROUTINE

Many pets become unsettled by changes in daily habits.

To avoid any additional source of anxiety, it is best therefore, to keep feeding and exercise times the same as normal, as much as possible.

If walks or mealtimes need to be moved to earlier in the day to avoid clashing with fireworks, it is less disruptive to do this gradually over the course of a few weeks, well before the new routine needs to be in place.

KEEP INDOORS

Make sure your pet is home and all doors, windows and pet flaps are locked well ahead of fireworks being let off. Drawing the curtains and turning up the radio or TV help to block out upsetting flashes and bangs. Some dogs and cats respond well to calming music and sounds.   

CREATE SAFE SPACES

Creating a ‘den’, which provides a safe haven to retreat to if needed, helps many pets feel safe and secure. This can simply be the bed they naturally go to when anxious, with the addition of a few extra blankets, favourite toys, and possibly a few of their human companion’s clothes. If retreating under a bed or a table is preferred, a comforting place can be created there.

Regularly sprinkling a natural remedy proven to soothe, calm and relieve stress in these safe spaces can significantly increase the sense of security felt there. 

USE PROVEN NATURAL REMEDIES

Certain, botanical extracts can naturally calm fight or flight responses and relieve stress.

And because the effect of giving these is cumulative, starting a week or two before they are needed and continuing until after the New Year celebrations are over, provides maximum benefits.

GIVE PLENTY OF REASSURANCE

Shouting at or becoming frustrated with a stressed pet only increases anxiety and makes matters worse. In the face of relentless barking or whining, a chewed table leg or toileting in the house, reassurance and understanding may be hard. If the measures outlined here are implemented however, these kinds of scenarios are much less likely – to the relief of all concerned!

MEDICAL CONDITIONS

If a pet has a health problem which could be affected by stress (such as diabetes for example), it is advisable that they are checked over by a vet well beforehand so that treatment can be adjusted if necessary.