With Diwali, Guy Fawkes and New Year’s Eve all lined up it is time to remind ourselves that celebrations are not equally pleasant to all of our family members. Of course, not all dogs are scared of fireworks and loud noises, but even if they are not, it is not recommended to take them to fireworks displays. Just because they are not scared does not mean they enjoy it! Fireworks are loud and dogs have exceptional hearing. Most humans jump at the sound of a car backfiring or any other loud bang. Imagine that sound intensified with first the whistling noise of the rocket climbing and then the loud explosion and you can imagine how most dogs feel. Fireworks are also unpredictable noises for dogs. Whereas humans can anticipate the upcoming noises, dogs have no reference point and are taken completely by surprise.
Many dogs suffer from a very common medical condition called noise aversion or noise anxiety. Some breeds and individuals seem to be affected more than others. Hearing loud noises causes stress, fear, and possible destructive behaviour. This is similar to panic attacks in humans, causing racing of the heart, heightened alertness and general anxiety. In dogs this can manifest as pacing, trembling, hiding, burrowing, refusing to eat, vocalising, panting, extreme clinginess, or other similar behaviour.
Loud noises may also be perceived as a threat, eliciting a fight-or-flight reflex, which can result in destructive behaviour. This can be either damage to your property (tearing furniture, scratching doors, trying to jump through windows, digging holes) or traumatic injuries to your dog due to trying to escape (broken bones, traffic accidents, wounds) as they might feel trapped. For many dogs, it is more about the emotional trauma then the physical loud noise itself and the panic response and stress reaction can last for weeks afterwards. Without treatment, the anxiety can get worse with time and can be brought on by other noises such as thunder, lightning and even rain!
So, what can we do to help our dogs through firework displays:
- keep your dog inside
- draw the curtains to minimize flashing lights and dampen the noise
- walk your dog early before fireworks
- feed your dog early before fireworks
- top up your dog’s water bowl – stress panting can make them thirsty
- create a safe place for them inside your home (bathroom is a good option), with a bed, blanket, toys and possibly some background noise like music or radio
- consider a calming wrap (wrap your dog in a blanket for the duration of the noise)
- cuddle and play with your dog
- make sure your house and garden are escape proof
- microchip or otherwise identify your dog (name on collar etc) in case your dog manages to escape
- keep calm yourself and act normally, as your dog will follow your example
- take your dog to firework displays
- tie your dog outside
- tempt them out of the room or house if they seem anxious
- tell them off if they behave oddly, they can’t help it
If your dog is particularly anxious consider trying to desensitize them before a fireworks display. This can be done slowly by playing sounds of fireworks at very low levels every day, gradually increasing the level (but not too loud!) if the sound is well tolerated. There are many YouTube videos on firework noises/sound therapy for pets. At the same time, give your dog some treats or cuddles to associate the noise with something pleasant. This might not completely help, but it can decrease their stress level once the real fireworks start. If nothing works, consider talking to your vet about anxiety-reducing medications for your dog.
Article by: Dr. Laura Wessman