Fear is, by definition, one of the most unpleasant emotions we can experience. Intense fear, though, seems to be a species all on its own. Whereas we’ve all felt fear – the shot of adrenaline it causes and the primal fight or flight response – many of us have never been in fear for our very lives.
This is to say that the overwhelming panic an animal may feel due to explosive noises could simply be beyond our imaginations.
The stories of the lengths pets like dogs and cats will go to when in fear for their lives are nothing short of heartbreaking. According to one vet, his practice has had to treat cats severely cut by razor wire, dogs and cats pierced by spiked fencing, deep wounds caused by broken window glass and runaways that have been hit by cars. All this as a result of pure terror.
Domestic pets will have varied stress responses to loud, unanticipated noises, and reactions are often unpredictable. Whereas some may become habituated to thunder and its associated lightening, some never will, and for some, the fear response will become increasingly intense over time. Becoming habituated to fireworks, however, is extremely difficult – meaning that it is almost always detrimental to an animal’s sense of security and wellbeing.
Guy Fawkes marks the beginning of fireworks season – it’s followed closely by Diwali, Christmas and New Year’s – so it’s imperative to be aware of their negative consequences and the steps one can take to protect your pets.
The general rule of thumb is to be at home with them, and lessen their anxiety as much as is possible. First steps include sheltering your animals from the ‘bang’ as well as the vibrations they pick up before the actual sound reaches their incredibly sensitive ears.
- Heavy, drawn curtains will help, as will closed windows and carpeted floors;
- Reasonable volumes of calming music could add to the above;
- Soothing your pet by stroking them and talking to them could lessen anxiety, as will chewing on bones and/or catnip;
- Surround your pets with familiar items like blankets, toys and baskets;
- Ensure that they have identification in case they escape into the road – the loud noises could drive them far away and into unfamiliar territory;
- Provide a filling meal beforehand to help elicit sleep.
Unfortunately, the above may not be enough for animals that have a very strong fear response: in these cases some form of veterinarian prescribed sedative or anti-anxiety medication may be necessary. It is important to anticipate this so that necessary steps can be taken well in advance.
All pet owners are encouraged to completely refrain from the use of fireworks. The NSPCA also asks pet owners to know the national laws in addition to their local municipal bylaws so that any unlawful use of fireworks may be reported to the SAPS immediately.