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Those Blasted Fireworks!

Introduction

  • Each year we cuss and curse at the sky and apologise to our poor dogs for not having managed to get fireworks (or thunder!) banned or restricted in time. Some run about looking for a place to hide from the bangs and flashes, others bark and growl and are generally unhappy. And when our dogs are unhappy, we are unhappy.
  • Most dogs are not disturbed by fireworks at all, and can barely be encouraged to raise an eyelid on Halloween night, Diwali, Christmas, New Year Eve, weddings, neighbours’ wedding anniversaries, birthdays, or any occasion it seems. These dogs are the lucky laid-back ones.
  • For the ones that are not so lucky, there is help. The first thing to mention, however, is this: there is nothing that takes away the distress entirely. All we can do is make the situation a little better.

Things you can do before resorting to pharmaceuticals

  • You need to create a safe and cheerful environment where your dog feels safe and secure. Noisy is a good thing to be used to.
  • Turn the radio or TV on early, ie. before dark, and turn up the volume. This will help to mask the distant thuds we cannot hear, but the dogs can.
  • If you have CD of recorded firework sounds (eg. ‘Sounds Scary’), play this regularly in the days leading up to the firework season. These have been available for free at some of our Club shows over the last couple of years.
  • Get all the walking and toileting done before the first fireworks of the evening where possible.
  • If your dog has a history of taking off in a panic, ensure that he or she is microchipped or easily identifiable before the situation arises.
  • Close the windows and close the curtains or blinds. This will block out some of the sounds and all or most of the flashes (depending on the quality of your curtains!).
  • Keep the atmosphere light and cheerful and make sure the dogs join in. If we start bracing ourselves and getting all worked up before the first bang, the dogs will surely find out and go into flight or freeze mode, and generally start panicking.
  • When your dog starts to panic, do not pacify/soothe him or her. I know this is hard to do since it is entirely natural to want to do so. But what you are doing by pacifying them is, effectively, to praise them. It is the same as saying ‘well-done, do some more’. You do not want to reinforce ‘inappropriate’ behaviour. The right thing to do is to behave as normally as you can, and just say ‘no!’ in a calm and confident way. It must never sound like punishment.
  • Distract your dogs with things they like to do.
  • If all these methods fail, allow your dog to find a hiding place, and keep on making cheerful happy and normal sounds. They will usually come and find you after a while.
  • It is helpful to place some used clothing belonging to the dog’s favourite person nearby. Praise your dog for finding a good place, then ignore him or her.

Things to do when you have a young puppy

  • You may be lucky and have your puppy arrive during the firework season. These puppies ‘normalise’ and accept the noise and flashes simply as part of life. These puppies have become desensitised.
  • Buy and regularly play a CD of recordings of fireworks and other noises while the puppy is growing up.
  • It is useful to get them used to loud bangs, like that of books and saucepans being dropped. This should be part of their desensitisation program anyway.
  • Do all of the things in the above section when your young dog starts to show panic behaviour at the first sound of fireworks.

How can your vet help?

  • First, we are happy to chat to you about everything I have written above.
  • Keep in mind that anything that is recommended will not take the problem away entirely, but can improve matters substantially.
  • Keep in mind that doubling the dose of anything will not be doubly as effective. Follow the instructions closely.
  • The current method of choice is DAP/Adaptil collars, sprays, or diffusers. DAP/Adaptil is the abbreviation for Dog Appeasement Pherhormone, which is a synthetic pherhormone that mimics the hormone that is produced by nursing bitches to pacify puppies. In the adult dog it reduces anxiety. Annoyingly, the manufacturers of DAP have in the last year or so changed the name to ADAPTIL (and changed the packaging), so that is what you may be offered.
  • I recommend both the collar and the diffuser in cases of severe reaction to fireworks and thunder.
  • The spray is used where your dog spends most of his or her time, and is usually used in the feeding area and on and around the bed where they sleep
  • The diffuser must be plugged in where the dogs likes to be or passes by regularly. You need to plug it in a week or more before the fireworks start. It must be kept plugged in 24 hours a day during the firework period.
  • In an emergency, it is still worth using because it can result in an immediate improvement, even if slight. Your dog will still be grateful.
  • When using the collar, make sure that it is snug against the skin. The pherhormone is released when the collar is warmed up by the dog’s body. When you remove the collar, it stops, and is reactivated only when it is heated again.

Other things available from the vet

  • There are ‘natural’ substances available from your vet, and petshops, and they come as capsules, powders, drops, and liquids for dosing. They do not usually need to be started in advance, and can be effective in slightly ‘jumpy’ dogs. They will have little or no effect on severely phobic or frightened dogs.
  • Sedatives like ACP (Acetyl Promazine). They can have a slight to profound sedating effect, and the effective dose can vary from dog to dog. ACP sedates the dog only. They can still hear the noise, see the flashes, and smell the smells, but cannot react to them, or react only sluggishly. They only appear less anxious, but will remember the event. This can build up and make the future more difficult. ACP is to be used only in the home, where you can guarantee that your dog may stay for the night. The effect can also sometimes last for all of the next day, in which case your dog may not be able to go for a walk. A dog on ACP should avoid stairs and steps.
  • Diazepam, or similar. These have lately been shown to be more effective than ACP. It fuzzes the memory of fireworks, and the phobia is not increased over time. To ensure that your dog is on the right dose, the vet will need to examine him or her, ask questions pertaining to liver and kidney health, and dispense a test dose. The ideal dose should produce almost no visible signs or changes in your dog’s behaviour. A good dose will last 4 – 6 hours, that is, an evening. A too-high dose will cause your dog to pant, pace, and even stagger about. Diazepam has no long-term effects.
  • There are also drugs, like Xylkene, with which some families have had success.

What I do for my dogs

  • I use the DAP/ADAPTIL plug-in where they like to sleep.
  • I am fortunate in that only one dog goes into the run-about-and-bark mode, so she gets fitted with the DAP/ADAPTIL collar.
  • I use all of the behaviour modification and desensitisation methods I describe above.
  • We (two persons and eight dogs) sometimes simply impose ourselves on country relatives, where, hopefully there will be no, or much fewer, fireworks. But not even that is fool-proof these days!
  • I have heard that a tight jacket (on the dog), called a ‘Thunder Jacket’, mimics a reassuring hug and can help the frightened dog. Tightening a harness may have a similar effect neurophysiologically. I have not tried that yet, but it is worth looking into.