The owners of pets with noise phobia or other forms of anxiety are already stressing about ringing in the New Year. The fear of the dog escaping from the house or yard, or causing destruction to the home, or even pacing and vocalizing for hours is already creeping in. Other pet owners expect their pets to be fine but may be in for a surprise once the fireworks start going off. We often see a rise in these types of phobias as our pets age and commonly in our geriatric patients.
Whether or not your pet has pre-existing anxiety issues, there are steps you could be taking to help keep your furbabies safe during this holiday season.
- IDENTIFICATION: Ensure ALL pets in the home (dogs and cats) are wearing collars with up to date information. Double check the phone numbers! Microchips are also a great way to identify your pets. If they end up at a shelter or veterinary clinic, they can be scanned to find your information — Also ensure this information is up to date!
- CURRENT PHOTOS: Take a current photo of each of your pets in case they escape. The last thing you want to be doing when your pet is lost is looking for a photo of your pet.
- BASIC COMMANDS: Teach, or refresh your dog’s basic commands like ‘stay’ and ‘come’. If the commands are not reliable in controlled environments, they will not work in times of stress. Teach your dogs to wait at the door instead of bolting out any time it is open.
- SECURITY: Ensure all doors and windows are closed. Inspect the yard for secure closure of gates. Ensure fence boards are in good condition, and the snow is cleared away from the fence.
- ACCOMPANIMENT: When your dog goes out to do their business- go with them. Be there to supervise. Even better – keep them on a leash (EVEN IN THE YARD) – gives you some added security. Even the dogs with the best recall can spook from a loud bang and run off.
- GUESTS: Inform your guest that you have pets in the home so they can be mindful. Ask them to double check the door behind them, and not to let the animals out.
- QUIET AREA (MOST IMPORTANT): Provide your pets with a quiet area in the home. Choose a place in the house where the fireworks will seem quieter. Turn on a tv, radio, or even better, ‘white noise’. (You can purchase white noise generators, or find apps on your phone/computer). If your pet is kennel-trained, this is the safest place for them to be. Provide a hiding place for the cats.
- PHEROMONES: Feliway and D.A.P are commercial calming pheromones for cats and dogs, respectively. This can help enhance your ‘quiet area’. They can be purchased in multiple forms, such as diffusers, sprays, collars, and wipes. You can find these products at your local veterinary clinic.
- DISTRACTORS: Give your pets something to do during the ringing in of the New Year. Kong’s or other food puzzles are a great option. You can also freeze these puzzles to make them last longer. Give the kitties some new toys, or cat-nip. Turn on the automatic laser toy. We want their attention to be on something pleasant instead of the intimidating loud noises coming from outside.
- DESENSITIZATION/ COUNTER-CONDITIONING: For pets who have an existing phobia – talk to your veterinarian or a certified dog trainer about how to properly desensitize them to the sound of fireworks. This is something you should be starting weeks before New Years to gradually get them used to the sound of fireworks.
- MEDICATIONS: For pets who have an existing phobia—talk to your veterinarian about nutraceuticals or medications that may be helpful to keep your pet calm during the holidays.
If your pet escapes because they are scared, do not chase them. A scared animal is acting on instinct and will continue to run if being chased. Keep them in sight if possible. If you lose sight of them, contact local shelters and veterinary clinics, make posts on social media.
If you find an animal, calmly try to get them to approach you (do not chase them), or get them into your yard or home. Call the number on their ID tag or contact the SPCA or nearest veterinary clinic to get them scanned for a microchip so they can be returned home safely.
The holidays are a time that should be enjoyed by everyone – sometimes what we enjoy, our pets do not. Take a few minutes to think about what you can do for your pet.
Happy Holidays to you and your furbabies!
Written by Mountain Road Animal Hospital