Animal senses are much more acute than ours especially their hearing, which makes them sensitive to loud noises and bangs in general. Therefore the weeks surrounding Halloween can be particularly stressful for pets and their owners. But there are things you can do to help your pet deal with their anxiety and phobias surrounding fireworks. Here are a few simple Do's and Don'ts:
- Always keep animals (including rabbits and guinea pigs) indoors when fireworks are being let off
- Close all windows and doors and leave the radio or TV on to help minimise noises from outside.
- Lock or block up cat/dog flaps to stop frightened animals escaping
- Draw curtains/blinds and dim the lights.
- Make sure your pet is wearing a collar with identification on it in case they run away or go missing and that their microchip details are up-to-date on the database which you will have special access to www.fido.ie
- Let your pet retreat to a place they feel safe, like a corner, under a bed or under the stairs.
- Never take your dog to a firework display or take them for a walk while fireworks are being let off, even if they show no anxiety or fear. This may lead to them developing a problem.
- Never shout at your pet when they are frightened it only adds to their stress and doesn’t help them overcome their fear.
- Never leave your pet in a car or tie it up outside when fireworks are being let off
Dogs and cats often seek shelter under a bed, behind the sofa or under the stairs. You shouldn’t try and remove them, they are just trying to find somewhere they feel safe and secure. They will feel more relaxed and safe if you can leave them in their "safe place”. Try if possible to be at home when you know there will be fireworks going off. If you are out, and your pet causes destruction, they shouldn’t be chastised as this encourages the behaviour. There are also a variety of products available to help your pet deal with their anxiety surrounding fireworks. Depending on the severity of your pet’s anxiety you can get anything from herbal remedies and pheromones available at Petstop to anti-anxiety drugs from your vet. Anti-anxiety drugs should only be used as a last resort or for severe cases. Your pet will require a check-up by the vet to ensure there are no underlying health problems that would make it unsafe to administer the drugs to your pet. Sedatives should be avoided at all costs. These only cause drowsiness; they relax your pet’s body but not their mind. They don’t allow the animal to move about or retreat to somewhere they feel safe and they do not alleviate your pet’s anxiety or fear.
Other products such as "Serene-UM” and "Calm-eze” are a much better place to start. All of these products are herbal and have little or no side effects. They are easy to administer and are available at Petstop. Herbal remedies are most effective if you start using them at least 7-10 days before you expect the fireworks to start. They can however be used at short notice as well. Pheromones are also very effective at treating anxiety and noise phobias. Pheromones are biological chemicals released by all mammals; they are picked up by our nose even though we can’t smell them. The dog pheromone works by mimicking the pheromone released by lactating bitches to their pups. This pheromone calms and reassures the young. Research has proven that these same pheromones have a similar effect on adult animals. They are available in plug-in diffusers, sprays and collars. The” D.A.P”(dog appeasing pheromone) is for use in dogs and puppies. "Feliway” is for use in cats and kittens. When cats feel safe in an environment they rub their face against surfaces leaving pheromones behind. These facial pheromones convey a feeling of calm and well-being. "Feliway” works by mimicking the cat’s facial pheromones and is available in a plug-in and a spray. Both are highly effective and cannot be detected by people. Pheromones are one of the best ways to treat anxiety in your cat or dog.
Outdoor cats should be kept in where at all possible. Halloween can be an extremely dangerous time for cats due to illegal and immoral activity. If you have feral cats in your area, try to leave food in a shed or lockable garage and if they wander inside, keep them in for the night for their own safety.
Small Animals & Birds
Most people forget about small pets when it comes to Halloween. Animals out in the garden are most likely to suffer. Rabbits, Guinea pigs, ferrets and birds outside can be terrified by the sound of fireworks. If possible bring them indoors, the kitchen or even a shed will do. Anywhere where the noise is dulled and they cannot see any displays in the sky, even turning their habitat to face a wall. Again putting a TV or radio on to mask the noise also helps. Extra bedding should be provided to allow your pet to burrow into so it feels safe. Pets may require more water when stressed so ensure your bottles/bowls are full.
If you have outdoor aviaries or hutches with thick blankets to block out the flashes of fireworks and lessen the bangs. Remember to make sure there is enough ventilation. There are some herbal remedies such as "Serene-um” available for rabbits and small pets. Again you should start using these a few days before the fireworks for best results.
Points to Remember
- No tricks, no treats: That bowl of sweets is for trick-or-treaters, not for Scruffy and Fluffy. Chocolate in all forms — especially dark or baking chocolate—can be very dangerous for dogs and cats. Sweets containing the artificial sweetener xylitol can also cause problems. If you do suspect your pet has ingested something toxic, please call your vet.
- Popular Halloween plants such as pumpkins and decorative corn are considered to be relatively nontoxic, but they can produce stomach upset in pets who nibble on them.
- A carved pumpkin certainly is festive, but do exercise caution if you choose to add a candle. Pets can easily knock a lit pumpkin over and cause a fire. Curious kittens especially run the risk of getting burned or singed by candle flames.
- Dress-up can be a big mess-up for some pets. Please don't put your dog or cat in a costume UNLESS you know he or she loves it. For pets that prefer their "birthday suits” however, wearing a costume may cause undue stress.
- If you do dress up your pet, make sure the costume isn't annoying or unsafe. It should not constrict the animal's movement or hearing, or impede his ability to breathe, bark or meow. Also, be sure to try on costumes before the big night. If your pet seems distressed, allergic or shows abnormal behaviour, consider letting him go au naturale or donning a festive bandana.
- Take a closer look at your pet’s costume and make sure it does not have small, dangling or easily chewed-off pieces that he could choke on. Also, ill-fitting outfits can get twisted on external objects or your pet, leading to injury.
- All but the most social dogs and cats should be kept in a separate room away from the front door during peak trick-or-treating hours. Too many strangers can be scary and stressful for pets.
- When opening the door for trick-or-treaters, take care that your cat or dog doesn't run outside.
- IDs, please! Always make sure your dog or cat has proper identification. If for any reason your pet escapes and becomes lost, a collar and tags and/or a microchip can be a lifesaver, increasing the chances that he or she will be returned quickly to their home.
Here are some tips from our resident
Dog Trainer & Behaviour Consultant Ali Ramsey
A scary time of year
For lots of dogs, Halloween is literally the stuff of nightmares. The sky lights up with strange colours accompanied by loud fireworks, the smell of burning sulphur, people in scary outfits with their faces obscured and the doorbell ringing repeatedly. It is not surprising really that Halloween is such a difficult time for some dogs and as a result their owners who struggle to see their animals so distressed.
So what can we do to make Halloween as easy as possible for our dogs?
Create a safe den for your dog
- Position your dog bed in the quietest place in the house. If possible, make it into a little den by using a crate if they have one or equally popping their bed under a table or even under your bed if they are small enough.
- Give them something nice to snuggle into – ideally something that has an existing good association – like your dressing gown or blanket off an armchair etc. If I have been away from home for a little longer than planned, I will occasionally come in to find my dog curled up on a pile of laundry he pulled out of the linen basket. He does this as he wants to be surrounded by that comforting smell of his family, so don’t underestimate the power of scent!
- On top of the nice familiar smell of their family it may be worth considering scenting their den area with essential oils or specific dog anti-anxiety calming sprays or herbal tablets.
- Give your dog access to their favourite things e.g. if they like to carry a soft toy or ball around, make sure this is available for them.
- Play some relaxing music or even better if possible record yourself talking or maybe reading a book (if you struggle to think of something to say) and play the recording on loop.
- If you can encourage your dog to chew on a stuffed Kong, Stag Bar, rawhide chew or knuckle bone that would be great. This will help by giving them something else to think about and will also allow their body to get a nice 'feel good hormone' hit that comes from chewing on something.
- If your dog seeks reassurance give it to them. Traditionally it was advised that you don’t reassure your dog as you could be "reinforcing the fear”. However, we now see that this is not the case and if we avoid reassuring them when they look for it we are in effect compounding their anxiety and potentially undermining our relationship, as they cannot count on us for support.
- If your dog chooses to be with you when they are feeling worried use this as an opportunity to do their favourite thing – playing, easy training or having a cuddle. Maybe introduce a simple puzzle brain game in the lead up to Halloween and bring it out on the evening and help them find the treats.
- If your dog is happy to wear a coat perhaps consider a Anxiety Wrap. These are fitted t-shirts which have been specially designed to apply a swaddling type of body pressure that has been proven to help some dogs feel calmer and settled in situations that have previously found stressful.
- If your dog is really struggling, perhaps consider popping a note on your door asking people not to knock or ring the bell. You could equally place a piece of tape over the doorbell or temporarily disconnect it if you feel that your note may be missed. I know it is not very festive but if your dog becomes very distressed you may need to sit out Halloween by turning off the lights and pretending nobody is home.
- However, if you love to see the children all dressed up in their ghoul attire and don’t wish to miss out consider maybe doing a trick and treat table at the end of your driveway. This way you are still able to enjoy what you like about Halloween while keeping your dog away from something they find distressing – win win!
- If it is too cold outside and you can’t face braving the elements try to set yourself up with a clear view of your driveway or front door. This way you can help your dog by teaming the children knocking on the door with you scattering a handful of chicken, ham, cheese etc. on the ground. Remember it is important that your dog is safe and secure in another room when you are opening the front door. Out and about
Out and About
If your neighbourhood usually has a lot of bangers and fireworks in the lead up to Halloween, you may need to adapt your daily walks to deal with this.
- Consider changing the time of day – e.g. when all the children are in school is probably the time where bangers are least likely to be going off, equally night time walks are the time you are most likely to see fireworks.
- Carefully choose your route – if your dog enjoys the car perhaps you could bring them to the beach, park, mountains etc that is away from the housing estates where there are more likely to be bangers and fireworks going off.
- It is important that when you are out on your walk that your dog has an up-to-date ID tag on their collar and equally if they are microchipped that they are registered on the database.
- I would also suggest that if your dog is at all worried, even if they come back all the time when off lead, for the time around Halloween keep them on lead or on a long line on their walks. Every year dogs are reported missing having bolted after getting a fright while out on their walk.
- Make sure that you have a bag of tasty treats or a yummy tube of pâté when you are on your walk so you can help capture and reward calm behaviour when the unexpected happens e.g. banger goes off near-by.
Trick and treating and the local community bonfires are wonderful activities for the family to be involved in. However, your dog may be the one family member who would rather be at home, tucked up in their bed, perhaps with a tasty chew. Outside of their walks if your dog is primarily outside it may be an idea to bring them in with the family where they are likely to feel much safer.
Note: Halloween, Christmas and Easter are equal to large volume of chocolate in everyone’s house. As we know chocolate is toxic and can have fatal consequences so make sure to keep the treat or treat chocolate under wraps.
Decorations and costumes
Have you ever come home wearing something different or met your dog out with a member of your family on a dark evening and they take a couple of seconds to register who you are? Now imagine how hard it must be for your dog when suddenly everyone around them looks different – sure you still sound the same and smell the same but something is not right.
So how do we help your dog out
So how do we help our dog out? Practice putting on elements of your costume while doing something fun with your dog so they learn that although you look different you still behave the same. Gradually build up to all elements of your costume making sure your dog is relaxed throughout. The same applies to ghostly decorations. Introduce them to the house over a couple of days in the lead up to Halloween and make sure you avoid things that jump out or make loud noises in the presence of your dog. So you have done all the preparation and your dog coped better than previous year but they were still terrified – they have likely become phobic of Halloween… so you have 12 months to help work with them before next year.
Preparing for next year
If your dog is phobic I would suggest contacting a positive, force free, trainer as soon as possible to work with you to help address this anxiety. Some ways your dog can be helped are through;
- Desensitisation and Counter-Conditioning (creating a positive emotion response) to
- Unfamiliar visitors
- Developing coping strategies for dealing with new, potentially scary, experiences. •
- General confidence building – practicing fun training.
Note: As each dog is an individual any behaviour and training plan will need to be tailored to suit them and their own unique environment, history and personality. Equally if you get a new puppy at any point throughout the year you can set them (and yourself) up for Halloween by habituating them to various noises, sounds and sights associated with this spooky time of year.
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