A guide to a “Chilled” New Year
In truth all dogs react badly to fireworks, but for some the fear can be overwhelming and dangerous. Panicked dogs will bolt or attempt to escape. They may pace, pant, and drool and seek reassurance by pawing, nuzzling or climbing on their family – not such an easy thing to cope with if the dog is a golden retriever! If the family is not at home a dog left outside they may feel unsafe enough to dig their way out of the yard and escape. If inside, they make frantic attempts to escape and cause damage to themselves, furniture and doors.
D.A.P (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) can help. Female dogs release this natural chemical after giving birth and it gives the newborn puppies the message of constant security, safety, and reassurance. A synthetic copy of the pheromone is available at our hospital as a diffuser that is plugged into a power point, or a spray and can make a real difference to the way dogs feel.
Once the New Year is over, a program of desensitisation is a great idea. A CD recording of fireworks is available and can be played in a controlled manner. As your pet learns to accept the sounds as part of their normal, safe world you can gradually increase the volume. Eventually they can become desensitised. The CD has been produced by Dr Robert Holmes, a veterinary behavioural specialist, and is available for purchase from our hospital. It comes with detailed instructions.
In some cases, anti-anxiety medication is needed. At low doses, these medications promote a feeling of well being and support a positive learning experience during desensitisation; at higher doses an amnesia effect may be helpful so the dog’s future learning is not influenced by the traumatic experience. For dogs with mild anxiety, short-term anti-anxiety medication is helpful. For dogs with severe reactivity to storms, noises and fireworks, longer term treatment, beginning months before the firework displays is often needed.
Protecting our dogs from overwhelming, fear-evoking experiences is important. Avoid exposing your dog to fireworks, or limit direct exposure. At a minimum your dog must be on a leash but still better, keep them at a safe distance or leave them at home. Once a dog is sensitized and fearful of fireworks, they may never recover.
To discuss your pet’s firework phobia and formulate a plan for coping and desensitisation, please call us on 03 9510 1335 to make an appointment with one of our veterinarians.