By Dr Asia O’Neill
The holiday season is upon us and there are many celebratory activities in store for the upcoming time. For us, this may be a time of excitement and festivities that may even include fireworks for some.
While many find enjoyment in this, many of our pets do not. Pets are a part of the family, so it is also important to provide them with shelter and a space where they feel safe and protected from perceived harm.
It is the responsibility of the owner to fully secure their pets, especially with the anticipated fireworks. First, properties should be deemed escape-proof by inspection of perimeters for points of escape. You should also know the temperament of your pets and anticipate how they react to loud noises. Our pets have a much stronger sense of hearing than we do. Thus, the lighting of fireworks is a louder explosive sound to them. This can be very frightening for them, triggering panic and flight behaviours.
Animals that escape can endure traumatic incidents like becoming lost, hit by a vehicle, or getting lodged on fences, which can lead to lacerations. Severe panic and anxiety can even lead to heart complications like cardiac arrest in prone animals.
For pets that are known to try to escape from loud noises, provision of a secure enclosed space or hiding places can help provide a feeling of coverage from the noise threats. Both cats and dogs can be kept in an enclosed space where noise penetration is the least.
Blankets and comfortable spaces can be useful in easing tension. It is not advised to leave dogs locked in outdoor kennels while the firework displays occur, as this can induce panic even further. An allocated safe space indoors or in secure galleries may be suitable.
For pets that may not appear suitable for indoors due to lack of cleanliness, a bath prior or close to this time can be done. It is also strongly advised to not leave dogs tied outdoors as the force created by collars around the neck can lead to severe injury.
Some owners may prefer to use the option of sedation in keeping their pets out of harm’s way. As long as this is done correctly, it is a safe means for controlling pets prone to anxiety triggers by firework explosions.
Sedatives can only be sourced by veterinary dispensaries. It is especially important to source these types of medications by vets because they will dispense the needed dose based on weight for each individual pet.
This also means that it is necessary that the owners know the weights of each pet beforehand. The weight is an essential piece of information needed to give the correct dose and increase the effectiveness of the drug. Estimating or guessing the weight of a pet may result in under or overdosing and creating undesirable outcomes.
Acepromazine is a common tranquilliser that is used for its sedative effect and control of anxiety. It is only available through a veterinary clinic for animals deemed suitable to handle the drug. It is not used in dogs older than eight years old due to its hypotensive effects (lowers blood pressure). It comes in an oral preparation (tablet form) with specific instructions for administering.
The veterinarian will know whether the drug they supply is suitable for both dogs and cats.
Gabapentin is another alternative that can be used for cats. Ideally, to allow for the best possible efficacy, the drug should be given 45 minutes before intended time of sedation to give adequate onset time.
Any drug administered on an empty stomach will have a quicker onset but may also be metabolised quicker, creating a shorter time of action. Animals that are already in states of excitation or fear may lead to decreased efficacy of the drug so it’s also important to give prior to expected time.
The least amount of stimulation will yield better results. Light and sound are sources of stimulation so keeping animals in a quiet, dark space may help to create relaxation and allow for better drug induction.
It is also strongly advised not to leave sedated pets unattended so they can be monitored during this time that can be distressing to them. Allowing them to be in company of those close and trusted will also aid in creating a feeling of comfort, safety, and less anxiety.
Often, our pets do all that they can to ensure that their families are protected. So, in times of their vulnerability, taking extra measures to reassure their safety should be taken just as seriously.