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As the New Year approaches, so does time for celebrations and
fireworks. Fireworks are a celebratory gesture, but many people
don't realize the implications they may have on animals.
According to Dr. Audrey Cook, clinical associate professor at
the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical
Sciences (CVM), most pets are startled by fireworks and experience
some degree of anxiety because of the unfamiliar loud noises and
flashes of light they portray.
Aside from anxiety and fear, some pets can experience physical
pains from firework encounters.
"A direct injury from a firework is unlikely, but could happen,"
explains Cook. "In fact, the most common problems we see reflect
the pet's desperate efforts to escape from perceived danger. Cats
may hide and run away and be injured in the process. Dogs may also
hurt themselves trying to get away from the noise."
"Any injured pet should be examined by a veterinarian," notes
Cook. "Particularly worrying injuries would include anything on the
face, mouth, or eyes. Bleeding wounds or burns should be loosely
covered by a clean napkin to reduce further damage or infection
before medical help is provided."
Cook recommends approaching an injured pet with care as it can
sometimes bite due to fear and pain. The best thing to do is to
move slowly and gently wrap the injured pet in a blanket to provide
some reassurance and to reduce the risk of biting.
If your pet experiences anxiety from fireworks the best strategy
is to simply act normal, because if you change your behavior your
pet will notice. This will only reinforce its fears as your body
language and behavior can tell your pet a lot.
"Easing their fears is difficult, and sometimes we actually
increase anxiety when we try to reassure a frightened dog or cat,"
said Cook. "Our reaction tells them that fear is appropriate and we
can actually heighten their response if we make a big fuss."
According to Cook desensitization - meaning getting your pet
used to fireworks - is not a very effective approach.
"It is very hard to desensitize a dog or cat to the noise of
fireworks, as these are distinct and rarely encountered," notes
Cook. "It is probably more effective to protect your pet from the
noise or train it to focus on you when any loud noises occur."
"The best strategies include trying to block out the noise with
loud music on the television, or providing a distraction like a
favorite toy," notes Cook. "If you behave as though nothing is
wrong and instead engage your pet in a game or training exercise,
it may deduce that there is no cause for anxiety."
In case of a severe phobia, your veterinarian may prescribe an
anti-anxiety medication or sedative for your pet. However, it
should only be used if there is no other way to calm your pet down
during these times. It is also wise to give the medication about
one hour before the fireworks are expected; waiting to give the
pill when the animal is anxious may limit its effect.
The best way to avoid any anxiety from fireworks is to keep your
pets inside or on a leash away and distracted from the sights and
sounds of New Year's Eve. Any place where they most feel safe is
preferable for your pets.
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