Halloween happenings may be fun for us humans, but for our pets, they can be downright terrifying, and not in a good way.
p to 80pc of pet owners acknowledge that their pets are afraid of fireworks. This often starts as mild fear or anxiety, but if badly managed, it can grown into full scale terror and phobia.
I know some unfortunate dogs that physically startle at the first sound of a firework in the distance. They run around, agitated, trying to hide in cupboards, barking, whining and shivering, clearly in distress. It doesn’t need to be like this.
There are three reasons why pets can be so badly affected.
First, their hearing is so much more sensitive than our own: a high pitched whistle may even hurt their ears. Second, they don’t understand what fireworks are: the sounds are new, and could mean that some terrible catastrophe is about to happen. And third, they may have poor experiences when they first hear fireworks, and this creates deep emotional memories that aggravate subsequent experiences.
To prevent long term problems, it’s especially important that new owners of dogs manage their pets’ reactions to fireworks effectively. What happens this year may set the tone for future Halloweens.
Dogs are experts at social referencing: this means taking cues from others’ behaviour (human examples of this include the way that standing ovations spread through a crowd after a performance). So dogs pick up clues on what to do from our behaviour. When it comes to fireworks, this means that we should react in a calm, measured way to reassure our pets.
Ensure that someone stays with your pet when fireworks are expected, and especially on the night of Halloween.
Instruct them to carry on with normal household activities, gently reassuring an anxious pet, rather than ignoring them or over-reacting. Don’t get angry with them, or punish them, if they show signs of agitation, whining or barking.
Provide a den or a hiding place where your pet can feel safe, with a comfortable bed, lined with old sweatshirts and other clothing to give your pet a sense of your reassuring presence. Sound proof the room (any windows closed, blinds drawn), and leave a radio on, with music playing, to drown out fireworks noises.
Buy a special plug-in diffuser that releases pheromones, which are odourless but biologically active vapours that give pets a sense of calmness.
Exercise your dog in the daytime so that they are tired, and in the evening, give them something to do, to distract them (such as chewing a deep-frozen, food-stuffed chew toy, such as a Kong).
If your pet has a history of severe reactions, talk to your vet about calming anti-anxiety medication to use when fireworks are expected, and consider engaging with a professional behaviourist for the longer term.
Specific sound-aversion therapy is possible, using recordings of fireworks played at low levels to help pets accustomise to the sound, but this needs to be done many months in advance.
Halloween is a common time of year for pets to go missing or to be injured on the roads, as they can panic when they get a fright.
Keep cats indoors on fireworks nights, and ensure that all pets are wearing identification tags and have microchip identification.
Take this opportunity to check and update your contact details with the database your pet’s microchip …….