Browsing tag: noise phobia

Fireworks in the equine world! – How to keep your horse safe this Bonfire Night

This year, 5th November is on a Tuesday – and that means we’re not expecting a Fireworks Night so much as a Fireworks Week!

As prey animals, horses are by their very nature predisposed to panic at loud noises, especially in the dark. Bright flashes of light don’t help either! And panicked horses are rather inclined to run into things and hurt themselves (I’ve spent many hours stitching up horses who have lost arguments with fences, hedges, gates and stable walls).

There are three important elements to keeping horses safe when there are fireworks in the air:

1) Help them to avoid injury

2) Distract them

3) Keep them calm

To avoid injury, I generally recommend that horses be stabled when fireworks are expected. That probably means dusk to dawn for the next fortnight or so, but if possible, find out when displays are expected in your area. You can then focus on those dates and times (but don’t forget that many people will set off a few rockets for themselves and their families). Inside their stables, horses can still become frightened, but they’re not surrounded by the scary noises, and they can’t bolt and get up so much speed, so they’re less likely to cause themselves serious injuries. It can also be helpful to leave the stable light on overnight – more light inside the stable means flashes outside are less visible, but make sure your horse copes OK with the lights on overnight first!

If you don’t have stables, first of all, see if you can borrow one for a few nights, especially if you have a really spooky or nervous horse. If not, the next best thing is to “accident-proof” the field you’re planning to turn them out in as far as possible – make sure the fencing is safe, remove any wire, fill in potholes, etc. Also, consider tying white or pale feed sacks to fencing, to make it more visible in poor light – tie them tightly, though, so they don’t flap and cause a stampede themselves.

Distraction just means keep them busy so they’re less interested in what’s going on outside. This generally means a well filled hay rack, and any toys your horse likes. Turnips on a rope are good, and horse balls filled with food or treats are a favourite with my two, who’ll spend hours chasing the balls round the stable for a mouthful of pasture nuts!

Finally, calming. For a herd animal like a horse, the most reassuring thing is having stable mates within sight/sound/smell – this is vital, and if they can touch noses or groom each other, its even better. However, it may not be enough on its own, especially for very nervous individuals. If your horse is particularly panicky, you should contact your vet (as soon as possible now), as they may need prescription medicines to help them cope. If possible, its best to avoid sedation, as it may lead to the horse becoming more nervous next year (as with dogs and cats), but unfortunately, horses are so big and powerful it may be necessary for their safety and yours. Your vet will be able to advise you on the best strategy for your horses.

There is increasingly, however, a middle road, as there are a wide variety of calmers on the market. Most are based on magnesium or amino acid combinations; these can be good to take the edge off, but usually need long term use. Others (e.g. Calmex powder) are designed to work immediately, although there is often little scientific proof of their effectiveness. Another fairly new product on the market is Zylkene Equine. This is based on the milk protein casein, which studies suggest is broken down in the body into a benzodiazepine-like molecule. This has a similar effect to Valium to reduce anxiety and stress.

As usual, I’d advise you to discuss with your vet the exact product you’re thinking of using, as they’ll be able to give you impartial advice as to how effective a product is likely to be. This is especially important if your horse is on any other medication: just because a product is natural or herbal doesn’t mean it won’t interact or interfere with another medicine.

That said, not every horse needs anything extra – I’ll never forget going to one yard on bonfire night evening and seeing a row of horses lined up at the fence watching the fireworks display two fields off with every sign of enjoyment…

The bottom line is that you need to find out what works best for your horse: every horse is an individual, and they need to be managed as such. We may enjoy the fireworks – but not all of our horses do!

Ask a Vet Online – ‘I have got 2 staffies 1 is afraid to go out at night even on a lead. How can I help him?’

Question from Anji Bradley

I have got 2 staffies 1 is afraid to go out at night even on a lead. How can I help him.He stopped going out after he heard a car back-fire and he thought it was a firework.

Answer from Shanika Winters MRCVS, Online Vet

Hi Anji, thank you for your question about your dog’s fear of going out at night. What you are describing would fit with being a noise phobia.

What is a noise phobia?

Noise phobia is a fear response which is triggered when a particular sound is heard, in this case banging sounds similar to those produced by fireworks.  Dogs are intelligent animals and soon make associations to a stimulus, in this case the stimulus is a sound and the response associated with it is a reluctance to go out for walks in the night for fear of hearing the scary sound.

From what you have described I have assumed that your dog already was fearful of fireworks prior to hearing the car back-fire.  If this is the case then hopefully the following will be useful information.

How can I help my dog with his noise phobia?

In order to deal with a noise phobia you will need the help of your vet or someone trained in dog behaviour and plenty of patience.

Having personal experience of a noise phobic dog (my old border collie Jack who was frightened of fireworks and thunder storms) and having used a desensitisation program I can definitely recommend giving it a go.

So what is a desensitisation program?

The aim is to get your pet to stop showing a fear response to the stimulus in question using a controlled program of exposure to the scary stimulus plus or minus the use of behaviour modifying medications.

The desensitisation part is reducing the dog’s reaction, the controlled exposure to the sound is by use of recordings e.g. CD or MP3 and behaviour modifying medications include drugs similar to Valium (Diazepam) and antidepressants.

The recording of the scary sound is played at a time when an actual scary sound is unlikely to be heard, starting with very short exposure and at a very low volume. Gradually the length of exposure, frequency and volume are all increased, provided at the previous session the dog did not show a fear response. The aim is that eventually the dog can hear the scary sound without showing a fear response.

What are signs of fear and or distress in the dog?

Dogs all express fear in different ways but the following list includes many of the common signs; cowering, panting, excessive salivation, vocalising, hiding, jumping up and trying to run away.

What are the chances of success with a desensitisation program?

It is difficult to predict how well a dog will respond to noise phobia treatment, but unless the noise itself can be totally avoided then it is worth trying the treatment.  It is worth keeping in mind that the desensitisation program may need to be repeated to ensure that the fear response is kept under control. In the case of fire work phobia it is best to start the program at least 6 months away from peak firework season to allow plenty of time for it to take effect before the dog is exposed to the scary sound. This is because unexpected scary sounds exposure outside of the controls of the program can set your dog back to square one, so good timing can help ensure you and your dog’s best chance of successful treatment.

In conclusion phobias are a difficult thing to treat, but with patience and help, most animals will see a great improvement to their quality of life. I hope that you have found this answer helpful and good luck with treating your dog’s phobia.

Remember, remember……..it’s time to plan for fireworks night 2012. Cats and dogs that are scared of fireworks.

FireworksFireworks can be an enjoyable spectacle, but not for everybody. Many dogs and cats are very frightened by loud noises, and in some this fear is severe enough to be a noise phobia. For these pets and their owners, the days or weeks around November 5th each year can be a nightmare.

The sorts of behaviour shown by noise phobic pets when they hear fireworks (or thunder or gunshots) can range from mild anxiety to sheer terror. In between these two extremes pets may pace around, refuse to settle, whine, bark, chew things up, dig holes, urinate or defaecate indoors or run away. A pet which bolts when frightened is at risk of having or causing a road accident. As owners, naturally we all want to reduce the distress our pets are feeling.

There is a lot that can be done to help pets through these problems, and the key to this is to plan as early as possible. Seek advice from your local veterinary surgery, where your vet or nurse will be able to help you decide on the best strategy for your pet.

Harvey at the FiresideMaking your pet a safe “den” where they can retreat when they feel scared can help. Playing music or having the television on may reduce the amount of distant noise your pet will hear, but will not mask fireworks which are close by. Walk your dog early in the day while it is still light, when fireworks are much less likely, and provide your cat with a litter tray, allowing them to get used to it well in advance.

The way you react when your pet shows fear is most important, and probably the most difficult thing to get right. Our natural reaction is always to soothe and comfort our pet, but this will only reinforce their belief that there is something to be afraid of. The best way to help them is to ignore the fireworks yourself, try to act as you normally would and ignore your pet’s behaviour as much as possible. This does not come naturally to anyone who has a distressed pet, but it really can help.

Desensitisation to noise over a period of time by using special tapes or CDs can be very successful. It is time consuming and requires commitment on the part of the owner. This is a long term strategy, but can be used in conjunction with other methods. There are also other ways in which a behaviourist may be able to help your pet to react differently to stressful situations.

Alan and MavisPheromones are chemical substances which are released in nature by nursing bitches and have a calming effect on their young. Similar facial pheromones are produced by cats to communicate with other cats by rubbing against objects. These chemicals are not masked by smells as they are not detected by the nose but by a quite separate receptor. There are several ways in which synthetic pheromones can be used to calm animals in stressful situations. Synthetic pheromones are available as collars, as sprays or in plug-in diffusers, and your surgery can advise you which would be most appropriate and how to use them. They need to be used properly according to the instructions to be successful.

Many people assume that the only solution would be to sedate their pet so that they sleep through the noise, but there are several drawbacks to this. Firstly, sedatives are prescription only medicines which cannot legally be supplied to you over the counter unless your vet is satisfied that he/she has examined your pet recently enough to know what state of health they are in. Popping in to the surgery for some sedatives on November 4th is not likely to be successful. Secondly, different animals react differently to the same drug sometimes, so your vet may want to find the best dosage by having a trial run. Thirdly, if fireworks in your area go on for days or weeks, it is unlikely to be a good idea to sedate your dog or cat repeatedly.

If sedatives are used, there has been a change over recent years away from some types which may make the animal quite immobile but do little or nothing to calm its fear. More commonly used now are drugs which calm the animal but do not necessarily knock it out.

Top tips for coping with fireworks fear:

    1) Plan ahead & ask for advice at your vets.
    2) Make sure your dogs are walked early in the day and then kept in. Provide cats with a litter tray.
    3) Make a safe den where your pet can retreat.
    4) Play music or TV, try to act normally.
    5) Resist the temptation to soothe and comfort your pet.
    6) Follow instructions carefully for best results from pheromone products or sedatives.
    7) If you left it too late to plan properly this year, make a note in next year’s diary now.

If you are worried about any specific symptoms your pet is showing, talk to your vet or try out our Interactive Symptom Guide to see what you should do.

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