The BSAVA recognise that fearful reactions to loud noises, such as thunder and fireworks are common in dogs and cats and likely to be an issue in many other animals.
The BSAVA recommends that veterinary surgeons advise evidence-based therapies for these fear responses in order that they may improve the welfare of animals under their care.
These would include:
- Behavioural management and environmental modifications, such as provision of an enclosed place to hide.
- Use of short term medication where evidence shows them to be beneficial.
- The use of adjunct pheromones in appropriate cases.
While the short term management of fears and phobias may be necessary BSAVA recommends that long term treatments should also be implemented wherever possible, these include:
- Behavioural therapy, using desensitisation and counterconditioning.
- Long term drug therapy, where required.
Those without expertise in behavioural medicine should consider referral to a behavioural practitioner.
Many animals show a fear response to loud noises such as fireworks. Careful and appropriate exposure to these sounds when very young (during the animal’s sensitive or socialisation period) can greatly help to minimise the fear response in adults. A fearful response to abnormally loud sounds may be a normal response or it may become a phobia. 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 other words the response will increase with repeated exposure.
The particular response of an individual animal to noises will vary between individuals. Typical responses can include trying to escape or hide, vocalising, pacing, panting or seeking owner attention. These responses can be severe and animals can be in distress throughout periods of exposure to noises, and for a prolonged period afterwards. Animals that do not display behaviours that are problematic to owners tend to be presented less frequently, though this should not be taken to mean that they do not suffer noise sensitivity.
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.
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Reviewed by members of BSAVA Scientific Committee (Alexander German, Jeremy Kirk, Caroline Kisielewicz, Lisa Morrow, Ian Self, Melissa Upjohn, James Warland) 2022