Nervous new puppy? Plan ahead to avoid doggy distress this fireworks season, warn vets.

With fireworks season fast approaching, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) is warning millions of ‘pandemic puppy’ owners to start preparing now if they suspect their new pet may be distressed by fireworks.

Firework noise can reach up to 150 decibels, as loud as a jet engine, and dogs, cats and other pets are often particularly sensitive to noise, causing the period around Diwali (4 November) and Bonfire Night (5 November) to be traumatic and distressing for many. BVA is concerned that millions of new owners could be caught out this year if they fail to plan ahead and prepare their pet. The UK has seen a surge in new pet ownership. According to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) 3.2 million UK households acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic.

Justine Shotton, President of BVA, said:

“Fireworks season is fast approaching, bringing with it all of the loud noises and bright flashes that delight crowds, but which many animals find extremely frightening. We know that many households have welcomed new animals into their home recently, including a lot of new puppies, and we’re concerned that these animals may become very distressed if proper steps aren’t taken to prepare them early.

“We encourage owners who believe any pet, new or old, may suffer from noise phobia to contact their veterinary practice now to discuss ways of keeping their animal calm and reducing their stress next month. If you’ve noticed that your pet suffers from noise phobias, such as running away or hiding when they hear loud noises such as hoovers, loud bangs, or children crying, they may be at high risk of also suffering from firework noise phobias.  The signs can also be more subtle, such as changes to facial expression, reluctance to be on their own or other changes in behaviour. 

“It’s been a challenging year, with lockdowns meaning many puppies and other pets have not been exposed to the wide variety of sights, sounds, smells and experiences that they need during their developmental stages in order to thrive. Our members are telling us they’re seeing an increase in behavioural issues in recent months as a result.”

Firework phobia can be effectively treated with behaviour-modification techniques, which can achieve long-term success with professional input and owner commitment and patience. BVA encourages pet owners to contact their vet early to discuss treatment options. This is particularly important this year as many vet practices are experiencing shortages, meaning owners may need to allow longer notice for requesting appointments.

Dr Shotton added:

“The triple whammy of Brexit, Covid, and the boom in pet ownership is putting unprecedented pressure on veterinary services across the country and we know that this is making it harder for some clients to get appointments. But the fear responses we see among some pets can be extreme and distressing and if you suspect your pet may be affected, we recommend seeking advice early rather than risking an emergency visit with a traumatised or injured pet.”

Five top tips for helping keep your pets calm during fireworks:

  • Prepare a den for your pet around two weeks before fireworks season and give them praise when they are relaxed there, so they come to view it as a safe retreat.
  • Use pheromone products next to the den and around the home. These are scents that we can’t smell but can help to reduce a pet’s stress.
  • Provide background noise and close curtains and windows on nights when fireworks are expected.
  • Remain calm yourself. Try not to reassure your pet as this often inadvertently reinforces anxious behaviour. Never punish your pet – remember, if they toilet in the house it’s not their fault.
  • Move small pets, such as rabbits and guinea pigs, to a quiet place indoors when fireworks are expected, and provide lots of bedding to mask the sounds.
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