Fireworks Season – How to help our patients get through it

With Guy Fawkes just around the corner, you may be getting an increased number of queries from clients about managing their pet’s anxiety during this time. Here’s some information on current best practice options:

Medications

Benzodiazepines are the drugs of choice here. In New Zealand, our options are diazepam, lorazepam and clonazepam. Acepromazine is not a suitable option – it provides sedation, but does not reduce the anxiety, which in the long term will only heighten an animal’s noise sensitivity.

Recommend a test dose first, before the onset of fireworks season. Dosing ranges can be wide, so start low and titrate up to effect. Remember to let the client know there is the possible side effect of paradoxical excitation with benzodiazepines.

Advise the client that the medication should be given before, not after, the fireworks start. Efficacy is much greater if given before the animal’s arousal levels are increased.

Gabapentin can be used in conjunction with benzodiazepines, or as a sole agent in cats.

Rule out underlying pain

Research shows that there is a link between chronic pain and sound phobias. Managing painful conditions can help with sound phobias.

Advice to clients for short-term management during fireworks

  • Keep animals indoors (bring rabbits/guinea pigs etc inside).
  • Close windows, doors and curtains to reduce stimulation from noise and flashes of light.
  • Provide a safe, comfortable retreat.
  • Keep calm yourself, and be reassuring. You aren’t going to reinforce fear by doing this. Fear is a negative emotion and reassurance helps allay this.
  • Exercise your dogs earlier in the day. This ensures they are not out at dusk when fireworks may be let off, and have been sufficiently stimulated, which will encourage rest.

Long-term management strategies

Encourage clients to plan ahead for next year, by using a desensitisation programme, such as Sounds Scary or similar.

Other underlying anxiety issues should be managed as well, and may need further medications (e.g. selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors); seek behaviour-specific help in these cases.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Dr Jess Beer, veterinary behaviourist, for assisting with the compilation of this information.