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Bonfire Night Worries?

November 5th is fast approaching, and no doubt there are fireworks about already in many places.

Anxiety about fireworks and bonfires is an increasing concern for our pets, but there are lots of things we can do to help, even at a late stage.

In an ideal world we would start desensitising our pets using sound therapy and other behavioural measures months beforehand, but if that hasn't been possible for you, what can you do now to help them?

The first thing to think about is what is it that frightens your pet? Is it the sight or the sound of the fireworks? Some dogs also become fearful of large fires and of course there are other inherent safety factors to consider around bonfires even if your dog or cat is not fearful!

If you can, find out about organised events in your area. This can help you to form a plan of action and a timetable. Of course, this doesn't mitigate for private displays so ideally speak to neighbours if possible.

In the days running up to expected displays, provide your pet with a safe space to go. This could be a familiar crate or box, or even a small room or space under the stairs. Try to make the space as comfy as possible, covering any gaps to reduce sound and light entering. Place favourite beds or blankets there, and ideally an item of clothing which smells of you.

All of this will add to the effect of safety you're trying to achieve by closing curtains and keeping windows and doors closed. Place a television or radio in the same place as your pet, acting as a distraction from outside noise. If these measures are started a few days before the event they will have a greater effect.

If your dog is food orientated you can use treats as a distraction as well, but try not to reward unwanted behaviour. When your dog is settled and calm, reward them with kind words and treats. Although difficult, try to remain as normal as possible. Some dogs will sense your unease and become suspicious if you start to pay them a lot more attention than usual! Treat everything as normal, whilst of course giving them reassurance if they do become worried.

Distraction in any form is a great technique to prevent anxiety escalating, so depending on what your pet loves to do, think about planning out some exciting games, or scent work in the house for example, to give them something to fully occupy their brain.

Complementary therapies

There are several commercial products available which can really help, especially when building your pet a 'den'. Talk to your vet about different options - these include diffusers and sprays containing herbal combinations designed to calm and relax when inhaled, and pheromone diffusers which have a similar effect. Over the counter oral complementary medications containing herbs combined with particular essential fatty acids, GABA (a calming neurotransmitter) and essential amino acids, can also be successful. These need to be started a few days before for the best effect.

Specific herbal medicines

Lots of herbs can have calming and relaxing effects, especially when given in correct doses and combined specifically for your pet. Herbs such as chamomile and lavender for example are known to be calming, as well as having potential anti-anxiety action.

There are many other herbs that also can have mild sedating effects, allowing your pet to relax. Over time this effect can be cumulative, as the animal learns that no harm comes to them and their stress levels remain lower.

For more information on herbal support please do get in touch.

If your pet has extreme stress reactions to fireworks and you are concerned for them, please contact your primary vet for advice and discussion about other medications.

Most importantly, have a lovely time celebrating this beautiful season, and keep both yourselves and your pets safe!

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