30th October 2003




One dog in three is thought to be scared by fireworks – and this weekend’s bonfire celebrations are likely to bring misery to many of the county’s put-upon pets.


But help is at hand from researchers at the University of Lincoln who have been working on ways to make dogs, cats and other pets more comfortable around Guy Fawkes’ Night.


Dr Daniel Mills from the Animal Behaviour Clinic at Riseholme Park has issued some good advice on how to minimise stress experienced by domestic animals at this time of year.


And he points out that dogs are not the only pets to be distressed by fireworks.


“Just because cats don’t often panic in the same way as dogs they should not be ignored,” he says. “And nor should any other pet such as rabbits out in hutches. They need to be shielded from the noise and flashing lights as they would run away into a burrow in the wild but are unable to do this in a small enclosure.”


Dr Mills gives the following advice to pet owners worried about the effect of fireworks on their furry friends:


Drugs may be useful in some cases but must only be given under veterinary supervision.  Remember that they should be given so that they take effect before any noise starts or panic sets in - usually at least an hour ahead of any event.


Generally ACP is not recommended as it may remove outward signs of fear while not calming the animal mentally. Instead we recommend drugs related to valium together with pheromone therapy.


Natural calming pheromones which help to reassure your dog are now available from veterinary surgeries. If you plug in a device in your dog’s favourite resting place in a blacked out room and leave it on the whole time, you may find that this is enough to calm your dog through the season. He will probably continue to react to the noise by stopping what he’s doing, but he should not panic.


These devices can be used in addition to drugs if necessary, but neither is a substitute for a proper training schedule to eliminate the problem. However, the training schedule needs to be done out of season and cannot be done now. Our latest work has found that combining the training with the pheromones is more effective than either alone.


Details of training programmes are available at www.fearoffireworks.com and www.soundsscary.com


Cat pheromone products are also available, and while  there have been no trials on their effectiveness some owners report a good response at this time of year.


Punishment is not recommended; it only confirms that there is something to be afraid of and will make your dog worse.


Reassurance is not a good idea either. If you fuss, pet or try to reassure your dog when he is scared he will regard this as a reward for his behaviour. Although it may be difficult, try to ignore any fearful behaviour that occurs. If you carry on as normal your pet is likely to be reassured that things are not as bad as they seem.


Feed your dog a good meal rich in carbohydrate with added vitamin B6, in the mid to late afternoon so he has a full stomach over the evening. If necessary, don’t feed him at any other time during the day to ensure a good appetite. However, if your dog is prone to diarrhoea when scared or at other times, consult your vet for advice.


Make sure that the dog’s environment is safe and secure at all times. Even the most placid dog can behave unpredictably when frightened by noise and should he bolt and escape he could end up in a much worse state. Make sure your pet has an ID tag and that your cat is inside and that the cat flap is closed and locked.


Comfort - try to ensure that your pet can remain in a well curtained or blacked out room when it starts to go dark. Blacking out the room removes the potentially additional problems of flashing lights and flares. Provide plenty of familiar toys or things to chew on and try to arrange your evening so that you are with your dog whenever possible. Make sure that all the windows and doors are shut so the sound is muffled as much as possible.


Noise - try to provide background sounds from the radio or television. If you can tolerate it, rap or similar lively music with constant drum beats does help. It does not necessarily have to be loud as long as there is a constant distracting beat to the music which will prevent your dog from concentrating on the noises outside. Ignore these noises yourself and try to involve your pet in some form of active game.


Ear plugs for dogs have been recommended and do work in some cases. You can improvise ear plugs by rolling pieces of damp cotton wool into a long thin cylinder and twisting them into the dog’s ears so as to pack the canals. The procedure is not easy since care has to be taken that the cylinder is not so thin that it goes too deep into the ear canal or so thick that it can’t be secured.


What next? The best strategy is to instigate a training programme once the season is over so that your pet loses his fear of the situation.


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For more information contact: Jez Ashberry, Press and Media Relations Manager

University of Lincoln (tel: 01522 886042)                     email: jashberry@lincoln.ac.uk


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