Keeping pets safe around Halloween

Many dogs develop severe fear of noises, including winds, thunder, gunshots and fireworks. Dogs have hearing that is far more sensitive than humans so it is not surprising that they can have dramatic reactions to noise. Interestingly, puppies that grow up hearing loud noises may be less likely to develop severe phobias because they learn to see them as normal – so pups that are born in August, Sept and Oct may be less likely to be affected than pups born in Jan, Feb March etc.

The fear of fireworks in dogs is largely seen with seasonal pattern linked to human use of fireworks, reaching a peak around Halloween. This is still a few weeks away, but it’s worth taking steps now to lessen the impact on dogs that have this type of fear

Typical examples include dogs that become almost hysterical when they hear loud noises, pacing the rooms, howling, barking etc, trying to hide in kitchen cupboards, chewing through doors etc.

Some solutions

Sedatives are an old fashioned answer. They do not work very well but in an emergency, they can help. Talk to your vet about a prescription in advance.

A safe place

A better approach is to try to pre-empt this type of crisis by making preparations in advance. Make sure that pets have a safe, secure den to hide in. A good example would be a central heating boiler room: it’s warm and comfortable, and the ongoing hum of the boiler helps to drown out the sound of fireworks. An alternative would be a cupboard under the stairs, or anywhere else that’s reasonably sound proofed. A loud radio should be left on, and plenty of bedding should be made available for a nervous dog to burrow into. Old unwashed items of clothing, such as sweaters or T-shirts, can help to create a reassuring sense that the pet’s human family is nearby.

Pheromones

To help create a soothing atmosphere in the den, calming pheromones should be used. These are odourless vapours that have a calming effect on animals. Plug-in dog pheromone vaporisers (the brand name is “Adaptil“) are ideal: these are like room de-odorisers, but instead of a pleasant scent, they produce a pheromone vapour that makes dogs feel less stressed. It’s also possible to purchase a pheromone impregnated “Adaptil” collar which allows a dog to carry around its own source of calmness: one collar lasts for a month.

These pheromones are not cheap (e.g. €25 per month), but if a distressed pet can be kept calm and comfortable, it’s worth it. In any case, the price of a couple of months of pheromone use is far less than the cost of repairing a home with scratched doors, chewed carpets and bitten skirting boards. An new alternative is a herbal Valerian based diffuser, which can also help pets stay calm: the brand name is Pet Remedy.

All of these arrangements should be put in place at least a few weeks before Halloween so that the full impact of calming by the new arrangements has had time to become established.

Calm owner, calm dog

Owners also need to reflect on the way that they interact with their pets when fireworks are going off. If you get agitated and make a fuss of a frightened dog, this can send a message that “you get lots of attention by getting frightened”. Some dogs then seem to learn that this can be a novel way of getting affection and treats from an owner, and the problem can then occur with increasing frequency. It’s better to carry on with normal activities around a frightened dog, and instead to give plenty of affection once the pet has calmed down and is behaving normally. The aim is to teach the animal that “it’s good to be calm”.

Getting a dog used to the noise

A better long answer is to get pets used to noises etc using specially designed MP3 downloads with soundtracks of fireworks. This should be done many months ahead eg in the spring time, but even a few weeks of this may help mild cases

Finally, a new product called the “Thundershirt anxiety wrap” seems to help many fearful dogs. It’s a tightly fitting coat that is supposed to give dogs a reassuring sense of “being hugged”.

We covered this issue recently on the Pat Kenny Show, and you can listen to our discussion below. The podcast also includes answers to some questions that listeners asked, including how to integrate a new dog into a household and what could cause head shaking.

Listen to the podcast:

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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.

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