VET’S DIARY: Remember, remember your pets on Bonfire Night

REMEMBER, remember, the fifth of November, writes Dominic Plumley.

It’s that time of year again! A good proportion of the animals coming into the surgeries are to be checked over because they require some form of medication to get them through the terror that is bonfire night.

It is my impression that there are fewer fireworks let off by kids – fireworks being generally less easily available – but more folk are having DIY displays at home.

It is no surprise really, but the loud noises and bright flashes that traditionally punctuate the evenings at this time of year profoundly affect a huge number of pets.

Many dog owners will have experienced their beloved pooch trying to dig their way out of the kitchen, generally making a mess of the £20 a square metre lino in the process.

Perhaps more disturbing is the affect on cats where signs are less overt and often go unnoticed.

Totally petrified, they tend to hide themselves away, the resultant shock to their system often having a deleterious effect on their health for weeks afterwards, especially if the frights continue night after night for a prolonged period.

Sedation should be seen as a last resort and can sometimes make matters worse

Animals that can still hear the bangs and see the lights, but cannot physically move because of chemical restraint, are even more frightened.

Though the kitchen floor may get away without damage the pet only reinforces its terror responses.

More useful drugs relax the animal and put them at ease, however, these work best if used in combination with training to help desensitise the learned behavioural responses.

This means taking action weeks in advance of Bonfire Night.

A fascinating and slightly less invasive approach, which seems to have worked well in the last few years, is to expose the frightened animals to relaxing odours.

Much of canine behaviour stems directly from their evolution as pack animals.

Apart from communicating with each other vocally and physically; typified by a howling wolf or pups play fighting, dogs also interact with each other by smell.

Pheromones are specific chemical scents, only detectable by dogs, that represent more general emotions; fear, aggression or readiness to mate for example.

Many dogs have been able to survive the firework displays without the need for heavy sedation by using plug-in “air-fresheners” that mimic the smell for relaxation and security; a kind of highly specific aromatherapy.

Even if your pets don’t go berserk at the sound of the first rocket, they probably will be disturbed in some small way and here are a few tips to help the fireworks display pass without too much stress.

Keep dogs and cats inside, block up cat flaps and any other ways your pets may get outside while fireworks are being set off.

Close all windows and doors to help keep noise to a minimum.

Close curtains so that your pets cannot see the fireworks.

Provide cats with litter trays and make sure dogs have had a walk and a chance to relieve themselves before dark.

Turn on the TV or radio to drown out the sound of the fireworks.

Avoid leaving pets on their own. They will feel safer with someone they are familiar with.

Do not attempt to reassure them if they are frightened as this reinforces their feeling that there is something to be scared of.

If you act normally and stay calm you will provide all the reassurance they need.

Outdoor rabbits and guinea pigs will be affected as well.

If you cannot move their hutch into a garage or shed, turn it to face toward a wall or fence (away from the open garden) and place a thick blanket over it to deaden the noise and block out the flashes of fireworks.

Give them extra bedding so that they can hide away securely.

If you’ve tried all these tips in the past and your pet is still terrified then sedation may well be the only answer, but make sure you contact us before the big night.

After all, we want to enjoy the displays as well, happy in the knowledge that all our patients are safe and content at home.