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Don't Leave it Too Late to Seek Veterinary Help for Firework Phobia

23 October 2015

UK - Vets are best placed to prevent firework phobia problems being magnified long before Bonfire Night arrives but most cases miss out on professional help.

Many animals – particularly dogs – do not share their owners’ excitement on November 5, but not consulting a vet could lead to the development of significant noise phobias – not dissimilar to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Research from the Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network (SAVSNET) has shown that too few pet owners seek veterinary help for their animals’ noise and flashing light phobias, and those who do often leave it too late.

The BSAVA believe vets are best placed to support clients through these difficult times, and have created a position statement for the management and treatment of firework phobias. You can read the statement here.

The BSAVA recommend that veterinary surgeons offer evidence-based therapies for fear responses to improve the welfare of animals under their care, and ideally this would be approached well in advance of the firework season.

The position statement includes advice about behavioural management using desensitisation and counter-conditioning, the use of short term medication with anxiolytic and amnesic affects, and the use of pheromones as an adjunct in some cases.

Ross Allan, BSAVA Press Officer, said: “Firework phobia is a treatable condition that should not be overlooked and it is an opportunity to talk to your clients about avoiding a small problem becoming a big phobia. Fearful reactions to loud noises and flashes of light, like thunder, lightning and fireworks, are common in dogs, and likely to be an issue in many other animals too, because they are not used to it. This may be a normal response to abnormally loud sounds or it may become a phobia, where pets become sensitised and the response increases with repeated exposure.”

“These responses can be severe – agitated, restless, more excitable, unsettled, or reclusive – and animals can be in distress throughout periods of exposure to noises and flashing lights, and for a prolonged period afterwards. But there is accumulating evidence that phobias can be treated successfully using behavioural modification techniques.”

While short term management of fears and phobias may be necessary, the BSAVA recommend long term treatments should also be implemented wherever possible, including behavioural therapy, using desensitisation and counter-conditioning, and where necessary longer-term drug therapy.

Ross Allan also recommends low volume noise, having blackout curtains, creating a safe place or den under the sofa, walking dogs earlier at night or even in the morning and playing music with lots of bass to de-sensitise them. Ross uses ACDC’s Back in Black.

Ross added: “The natural thing for pet owners to do is offer comfort and reassurance, but often that will magnify the response because they get that attention. Treatment programmes can take some time, especially in cases where the response has been present for a long while, or is particularly severe. So we are advising owners to consult their veterinary surgeon well in advance of fireworks season, though it is never too late to talk to your vet about avoiding noise phobias.”

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