Remember, remember the 5th of November. It’s the 5th of November tomorrow although only celebrated in the U.K. Here at My Pet Nutritionist, this isn’t something we celebrate, well certainly not with fireworks. Of course fireworks aren’t a one-day celebration. We observe many holidays, in different countries throughout the year with fireworks. Sadly, this can be a difficult time for pet parents and their beloved dogs. We would also like to mention cats and other wildlife that are affected by the trauma and injury of fireworks.
We decided to compile a top 10 tips, aimed more at your dog, to try and manage some of the stress that may be endured, during these times.
Probably too late for the impending f November but for future , playing a fireworks sound effect (many are available free online) at a very low level fora brief period of time can be incredibly help to build a tolerance and desensitisation to loud fireworks. Whilst playing these sounds, we suggest giving your dog a series of small, tasty dog treats and praising them when they remain calm. Then turn the sound off and stop giving treats.
Repeat the process with the sound at a low level until your dog looks to you for reassurance. Always be sure to check that your dog is comfortable and not displaying signs of anxiety. Keeping the volume low to begin with is key.
Gradually turn up the sound in subsequent training sessions, varying the recordings to include a variety of firework types, until your dog begins to associate the noises with goodies and praise for having a calm demeanour.
Schedule a Pre-Fireworks Walk
Going for a long walk or spending time playing during the day may help stimulate your dog enough before the fireworks begin.
A dog that’s mentally and physically tired might be more likely to sleep. We don’t however advocate exercising your dog into the ground as this can raise cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and may actually heighten anxiety symptoms.
Schedule Dinner and Toilet Time Earlier
It’s important to time your dog’s meal times and toilet trips well in advance of the night getting dark. Since fireworks typically start early evening, it is good to try avoid going out whilst the fireworks are going off.
Give your dog enough time to finish dinner, digest and go to the toilet before the noise begins so that he’s not forced to hold it during an already stressful time.
Keep Your Dog Occupied During Fireworks
If your dog isn’t too distressed to concentrate, it is good to create some distractions by giving your dog something delicious to focus on like a chew, bone (if they are used to bones),or the use of a kong filled with treats they love. Snuffle mats or search and find games can be helpful or if you dog is used to training; you can maybe create a fun activity.
Drown Out the Noise
The sound of fireworks will seem like unpredictable booming sounds to your dog. This can be perceived as an impending danger and make a dog feel incredibly vulnerable.
While desensitising with a fireworks recording throughout the year will help your dog learn to cope with the noise, an easy way to manage fireworks anxiety during the event, is to try and drown out some of the sound with something more calming to the nervous system.
We recommend playing classical music or using a recording specifically for dogs. We recommend ‘through a Dog’s Ear recording’ . Obviously belting out music may be a little alarming but find a volume loud enough to camouflage the sound of the fireworks.
Reassure Your Dog
You may have heard that comforting your dog in times of stress can reinforce fears. However, unless your dog wishes to be on their own, your dog may benefit from some reassurance and contact, after all a reaction to fireworks is a legitimate fear. Providing comfort during this time may be appropriate and helpful. Read your dog and don’t enforce anything they don’t want to do.
Create a Safe Space
Shut all blinds and curtains. Sitting in a closed, small room together, with soothing music, allowing your dog to sit or lie where he wants may work out for you. Petting or snuggling with your dog is completely acceptable if they are searching for reassurance.
If your dog’s safe place is in his crate or in a small nook in the corner of your home somewhere, you can create a den or cover all sides with a blanket allowing a clear exit at all times.
Very much like swaddling a baby, a snug garment that encases and gently puts pressure on your dog’s torso, touching key acupressure trigger points, can reduce anxiety for stressful events.
Get your dog used to wearing an anxiety vest, preferably a few weeks before firework season, allows your dog to become comfortable and acquainted with the garment beforehand.
The Thundershirt is designed to help reduce stress in your dog and we have seen some good response to its use.
Try Nutrients for Anxiety
Chamomile, valerian, skullcap and lemon balm, the amino acid theanine, many vitamin B’s and magnesium are probably the main nutrients to help support anxiety. Foods rich in B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and other herbs may help greatly as well as considering supplements to aid anxiety or herbal teas given as a treat. Find out more here.
Consult with a Professional
If your dog’s anxiety doesn’t improve, find a positive behaviourist to help you and your dog work through some protocols to help with relaxation during these times.
If your dog’s fireworks anxiety puts them in an inconsolable state, talk with a nutritionist or holistic veterinarian. Anxiety supplements (see above) for dogs may be helpful or if your dog poses a danger to themselves or you, medication may need to be discussed with your veterinarian.
In conclusion safeguarding against the least stressful event during fireworks season is a multi-step approach. It can take time but some of these steps we can implement on the day of the event.
Stay safe folks.