Fireworks Frenzy

25th December 2012   admin   No Comments

A guide to a “Chilled” New Year

Dogs don’t follow the Gregorian calendar, for them each day just rolls into the other.  Sometimes it is hot, sometimes cold and then one day their world is rocked by terrifying explosions, bangs and whistles.  Not a “Happy New Year” at all.

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.

So, what can you do to ensure your dog copes?
Firstly, don’t reinforce the anxious behaviour by making a big fuss over them. Some dogs look for a safe place to hide, so create one for them.  It might be in a crate, wardrobe or under a bed – somewhere small and snug is best. Additional blankets to muffle the sound and a D.A.P diffuser (more on that later) will provide natural motivation to seek this safe location.


Secondly, distressed dogs should not left alone.  A dog sitter might be needed if you are going into the city to enjoy the fireworks. Someone needs to be around to ensure an anxious dog doesn’t injure themselves or escape.

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.

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