Bang! Fireworks and anxiety in pets
It’s hardly surprising that our pets find fireworks stressful, firstly they have much more sensitive hearing than us, and secondly they don’t understand why these loud noises and bright lights are happening.
Now that fireworks are no longer used just to celebrate bonfire night, but are used for events throughout the year, it has become increasingly problematic for fearful pets.
So, with bonfire night quickly approaching, we thought it would be a good time to share the signs and symptoms of anxiety, and how you might relieve it so you are fully prepared to help your pet.
Signs and symptoms of stress and anxiety
Animals show their anxiety in a variety of ways, including;
- Trembling and shaking
- Over/under grooming
- Destructive behaviours
- Aggression towards other animals/ people
- Repetitive vocalisations
- Increased ‘clinginess’/Escaping
- Diarrhoea, constipation or Inappropriate soiling
- Pacing/ restlessness /Increased sleeping
Synthetic pheromones - The most commonly used tool by pet owners - and recommended by vets - to help calm their pets is synthetic pheromones. Products such as Adaptil and Feliway that contain a synthetic copy of the dog appeasing pheromone (DAP) and the feline equivalent (CAP), have been proven to help reduce stress and anxiety significantly.
DAP and CAP are produced by nursing mothers to help comfort their young and make them feel safe. There is also a relatively new product that contains a synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone which is produced when cats feel safe in their environment. This product is for multi cat households where the felines are fighting.
Play/exercise – Just as exercise can relieve stress and anxiety in humans so too it can with your pets. A vigorous walk or play session with their favourite toy should distract them as well as tire them out.
Problem solving games and toys are also useful here, not only will they distract your pet they will also focus the brain in a more positive area.
Safe spaces – Make sure there are safe spaces available for your pet. Dogs and cats often retreat to small, enclosed spaces when stressed. So, instead of having them cower under a bed or in a corner, prepare a den or comfortable bed to retreat to in advance so they associate it with being calm.
Make sure that the windows and curtains are shut in order to minimise the sights and sounds. Lock doors and cat flaps to prevent escapes, bring outside pets inside or cover their cages/aviaries. You should also consider using other sounds to mask those made outside – but don’t make it too loud for sensitive pet ears.
Food – If you pet is particularly fearful you could provide them with food with specific nutrients to help with stress and anxiety, for example food rich in B vitamins. B vitamins have various functions, including the regulation of hormones such as adrenalin, the hormone that is responsible for the fight or flight response.
There are also nutritional supplements and treats designed to help calm pets but remember, changing your pet’s diet significantly may lead to digestive problems, particularly if it is done too quickly, so you should always ask for advice from a vet beforehand.
Alternative/Behavioural therapies - A number of alternative therapies have been shown to help pets feel less anxious.
Aromatherapy – As with humans, aromatherapy has been shown to have a therapeutic effect, particularly Lavender, Sweet Marjoram and Valerian oils. However, due to your pet’s heightened sense of smell, it is recommended that the oils are used only in well ventilated rooms. It is also important that the oils are kept away from your pets because many are known to be poisonous, even in small doses
Massage – massage is known to help lower the level of stress hormones and so, you could consider finding a massage practitioner that caters for pets or, if you feel that you are confident enough, you could try massaging your pet yourself. There are lots of “how to” guides online and, not only will it help relieve your pet’s stress but it will also increase your bond.
Wrapping – like babies who are soothed by swaddling, some dogs – and occasionally cats - appear to feel less stressed when wearing a tightly wrapped coat or shirt. Wrapping is essentially a form of massage therapy, and, as a result should be used sparingly – such as a few hours surrounding a vet visit - in case the dog habituates and effect wears off. There are a number of wraps on the market but some pet parents have found that do it yourself wraps have helped too.
Personal/family changes – Make sure that you remain calm when the displays are on. Your pet is likely to pick up on your worries and become anxious too!
Try not to fuss or reassure them, just ignore it and your pet will see that it doesn’t worry you so they too will feel less threatened. It is also important that the other members of the family – and friends –behave in the same way, otherwise, your pet may well become confused and possibly even more anxious!
Make sure your pet is microchipped or has some form of identification. If one of their reactions to stress and anxiety is to escape it is important that you have a means of finding them again if they do become lost.
It should be relatively easy to keep your pet calm during stressful situations, however, if you are concerned about how your pet reacts its worth speaking to your vet to discuss other methods of treatment. For more information on anxiety in pets, see our dedicated advice page