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Bang with a plan

  • 27/10/2016 08:39:00
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Bang with a plan

London-based John Bonner takes a view on the explosive topic of year-round firework celebrations:

One of the benefits of living in a multicultural area is that your neighbours can always find an excuse for a party. 

From January 26 (Australia Day) to December 22 (Unity Day, Zimbabwe) there is scarcely a week that goes by without some family, newly settled in the area, celebrating either a religious festival or a national holiday. For many of these events, the highlight of the revelry will be a display of pyrotechnics in the back garden. So there are two shops within walking distance of this computer keyboard that advertise fireworks for sale right through the year.

That is still rather exciting for someone who grew up in a small, racially homogenous market town in Worcestershire. In those days, fireworks appeared by magic in the local shops some time in October and had disappeared in a puff of smoke by the morning of November 6.

Even today, the flashes of coloured light, the rippling explosions and the Proustian whiff of gunpowder are capable of transporting a middle-aged bloke back to his Kidderminster childhood. But they produce a different response in his Norwich terrier. So the little fella is kept inside with the curtains drawn and the television turned up loud to drown out noises that could otherwise cause him to whimper with fear.

He is not alone.

Veterinary practices and animal welfare charities warn of the thousands of animal that will suffer each year from being exposed to fireworks, particularly during the celebrations on or around Bonfire Night. Across the country, there will be a marked increase in the numbers of animals brought in to receive treatment for psychological stress. Also, over the next few days there is likely to be a surge in the numbers brought into rehoming centres having run away from home in panic.

In one of its various BSAVA position statements offering advice to members and their clients on health and welfare issues, the association sets out a science-based policy for managing noise-related stress.

This notes that many animals show a fear response to loud noises such as fireworks. As animals have more acute hearing that humans this would be a normal response to any abnormally loud sounds - or it may become a phobia.

In many cases, these fear responses may be transient, and decrease as the animal gets used to the noise. However, a significant proportion of individuals will become sensitised, in which case, the response will become more intense with repeated exposure.

Whether the problem is due to fireworks, thunderstorms or any other cause of sudden noise, treatment should be based on behavioural management, with the provision of an enclosed place for the animal to hide and the practitioner should offer short term medication with anxiolytic and amnesic effects. The use of pheromones as an adjunct may be beneficial in some cases, it says.

If the problem is likely to recur, the BSAVA suggests that its members should recommend long term management strategies to the animal’s owner. For practices where there isn’t a clinician with expertise in this area, it is suggested that the case should be referred to a behavioural practitioner.

“There is accumulating evidence that phobias can be treated successfully using behavioural modification techniques, such as desensitisation and counter-conditioning. These programmes can take some time, especially in cases where the response has been present for a long time, or is particularly severe. Therefore, owners are advised to consult their veterinary surgeon several months before fireworks are anticipated,” the policy states.

Read the BSAVA position statement on fireworks


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