Fear and anxiety of noise, or how to prepare your pet for New Year’s Eve?

Fear and anxiety of noise, or how to prepare your pet for New Year’s Eve?

Christmas is a time of joy and family reunions for us humans. While we tend to associate Christmas with a relaxed atmosphere, our pets tend to feel the tension that starts with the pre-Christmas preparations. Even worse is the New Year’s Eve period, when firecrackers are going off all over the place. However, our pets are not condemned to stress during this frenzied period, it is enough to prepare them for it early on.

In the first instance, you should start by desensitising your dog (or other animal, such as a cat) to the fear (or anxiety) inducing stimulus. In the case of New Year’s Eve, this will be the sound of fireworks. Desensitisation involves gradually exposing the animal to the fear-inducing stimulus: from the lowest frequency to direct contact. It is very important to control the strength of the stimulus, in this case sound. The easiest way is to emit a recorded sound to the animal. This can be done with the help of websites, where videos of such sounds can easily be found. Initially emit as quietly as possible, so as not to provoke a reaction. Then gradually increase the volume, but slowly enough so that the animal does not react to it with fear. It is good to combine this with counter-conditioning. This involves replacing an unpleasant emotional response to a stimulus with a pleasant one. In this case, the sound of fireworks is played softly from the speakers and the dog is rewarded at the same time, e.g. with a treat, play or touch. It is important here to repeat the process several times and to increase the volume very slowly. If the dog reacts negatively, e.g. gets frightened, we need to go back three levels lower so that he still feels comfortable. The work should be slow, steady and rhythmic. The distance from the stimulus, the angle of incidence of the sound source, the speed of approach (startling the dog with the sound of fireworks should also be practised!), as well as the characteristics of the stimulus triggering the response should be manipulated accordingly; different types of bangs (single loud explosions or series of bangs), swishes, whistles, etc. should be tested. These two basic methods work best when combined. They should be further supported by adaptogenic preparations, which contain substances that act similarly to animal pheromones for calming, or relaxing scents such as lavender. These come in various forms: collars, sprays or plug-ins.

The spray can be used to spray the dog or cat’s pen. It is advisable to put the collar on a month or so before the stressful event. It is also a good idea to support your pet with supplements based on tryptophan, taurine and herbs such as St. John’s wort, valerian root, chamomile or melissa. Such natural substances have a calming effect because tryptophan, as an exogenous amino acid (which must be supplied to the body with food), is a precursor of serotonin, which causes a reduction in muscle tension and is involved in, among other things, the regulation of mood, has an antidepressant effect and gives a feeling of calmness and relaxation. Taurine, on the other hand, inhibits over-stimulation during stress. Supplements with these ingredients do not cause addiction or have side effects, however, it is worth remembering that it is best to start taking them a few days before the expected stressful situation. Many dietary proteins contain insufficient amounts of tryptophan, so dogs can sometimes be deficient in tryptophan. Protein sources rich in tryptophan are mainly casein, whey, fish meal, soya meal, dried egg, salmon meat, turkey, wild poultry. On the other hand, products such as beef, lamb, chicken, maize, wheat and barley are poor in tryptophan. Dogs can also be given melatonin, which is sure to soothe their nerves and allow them to relax. Giving Dr Bach’s essence of 5 flowers (about 5-7 drops 3-4 times a day for an average dog) can also be a good option. It is also a good idea to use the classical conditioning process by combining New Year’s Eve sounds with a relaxation massage. We massage the dog while playing the sounds of fireworks quietly in the background. We can combine this with a spray of lavender scent for an additional action on the sense of smell or with the aforementioned adaptation spray to act on the lemma-nasal organ (also known as Jacobson’s organ), by which animals take up pheromones to enhance relaxation. For dogs, as macrosomatic organisms, the sense of smell is the most important sense, so it is worth stimulating it. The T-Touch method, including appropriate pressure, stroking or providing the animal with an anti-anxiety waistcoat, among others, can also be used.
In addition to specific therapeutic measures, we must remember the most important need (right after physiological needs) – the need for security. The dog must have its own asylum where it feels safe. For particularly discerning owners with a more generous wallet, special sound-reducing dog houses (such as the zencrate) are available on the market. The bedding should be as quiet as possible. It can be additionally covered with a blanket to form a “tent” or placed under a table and the table covered with a blanket. This will create a pleasant shelter giving the impression of a much safer place. If the animal responds poorly to this type of therapy, it is advisable to consult a specialist, a zoopsychologist, who will show how to perform the described exercises properly. When we don’t have time for them and we have been reminded that we should take care of our pet’s comfort at the last minute, let’s not abandon the subject because it will not resolve itself. If there is any way we can prevent our pet’s New Year’s Eve stress and anxiety, let’s do it. Various preparations available in pet shops as well as from veterinarians will help.

Author: Agata Kokocinska-Kusiak
ethologist, zoopsychologist, animal trainer

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29 December 2018