Veterinary Surgeon, Odile Sicouri, gives us her top tips for keeping your pet safe and happy during fireworks.
Firework Season is just around the corner...
Even though we may enjoy these explosions of light and colour, our pets generally do not share our experience. Animals have very acute hearing and as a result, are extremely sensitive to any changes in their sensate environment.
In order to try and minimise their anxiety throughout this period, we need to keep them feeling safe and comforted but also need to consider ways to reduce their fear responses over time. This takes a little more commitment and lots of patience!
On the night of the fireworks I would recommend the following:
1/ Cover all hutches and cages of your small furries (rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and birds) and move them to the quietest part of the house. Extra bedding is a good idea so they can burrow and hide away from the noise.
2/ Exercise your dog during the light hours of the day, try and tire them out if this is appropriate and then keep them indoors once it starts to get dark outside.
3/ Close the cat flap, hopefully your cats will return for dinner at a reasonable hour before its dark, so you can keep them indoors when the fireworks start.
4/ Try to dampen down the noise as much as possible: close all windows and doors, draw curtains and blinds, turn on the TV or radio to try and block out some noise. Classical music has been shown in a number of studies to reduce anxiety behaviours, especially for our feline companions.
5/ Stay home with your pets and most importantly stay calm. Our pets are often very sensitive to any changes in our behaviours so any anxiety or panic from us may end up getting transferred onto them.
6/ Respect your animals response... as long as they are not hurting themselves!
If they want to hide under the bed or somewhere they deem as 'safe', then it is best to leave them alone. If they come to you for comfort then you can provide them with cuddles and all the reassurance they need.
Ideally it is better to be prepared before the 'firework season' starts.
The following adjunctive aids should be considered and discussed with your veterinary practice as they will be prepared ahead of time.
1/ Pet Calming products: Pheromone plug-ins/sprays/collars. These can be used in the lead-up to the known firework period: that way you can assess what kind of affect they have on your pet (it will give you an idea if this will be enough or whether you need something extra to manage their anxiety) e.g. Feliway for cats, Adaptil and Pet Remedy products for both.
2/ Nutraceuticals: These can be very helpful and they shouldn't have any negative side effects, although they normally need to be given ahead of time, sometimes for a few days to a week prior to the event. There is some variation in responses between individuals so I normally recommend that people try these out sometime ahead, again to see whether or not they have the desired effect. I find that these are not often 'enough' on their own for very anxious/stressed animals, but normally are quiet effective for those pets who have low level anxiety.
3/ Prescription medication: If your pet has higher anxiety levels or is particularly noise sensitive and you are concerned that their responses to stress may be detrimental to them, then there are a number of prescription medications that can be used under the guidance of your veterinary surgeon. Noise phobias and anxiety issues can be complicated and multifactorial and often need a tailored, long term management program, sometimes working closely with a veterinary behavioural specialist.
4/ Sound therapy for Pets: There are some fantastic sound based treatment programs available, designed to help pets deal with distressing noises. Check out the 'Sounds Scary' booklet and information on the Dogs Trust Website.
I think this is a fantastic program but it does take time and patience and lots of forward planning. There are some animals whose anxiety issues require long term management and commitment from their owners and their veterinary practice but it can be a very rewarding and bonding experience for people to help their pets overcome their fear.
5/ Microchipping: Make sure your pet is microchipped( all dogs legally need to be microchipped in the UK but also ensure your cat is microchipped if there is any possibility of escape and/or access to the outdoors.
Odile Sicouri is of French-Mediterranean parentage and grew up in Western Australia, in an environment where animals were an important and ever present part of the familial landscape.
She has made London her home for the past 15 years and has worked in a variety of small animal practices in London. In the past, she has worked with endangered marsupials in Australia, with Orang-utans in Borneo and has devoted time to charities in Morocco and India.
Her approach to pet health care is holistic. She wants people to look at their pets as a ‘whole’. To refrain from humanising them too much but to understand that they do have individual needs. It is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to our pets’ health care, and ultimately, their welfare.
She is passionate about all animals and the role that vets should play in educating the public about some of the more contentious issues. With the rise in popularity of breeds that are often selected for physical traits that disadvantage them, it seems that role is more important than ever.
The impact of pet ownership on the environment is also something that she wants people to pro-actively think about.
She lives with her rescue cat, Leonard. He teaches her patience.