Urging clients to take pre-emptive action - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Urging clients to take pre-emptive action

PETE WEDDERBURN explains how his practice tackles the annual upsurge in noise-phobia cases

AS we move into autumn, our
practice has made plans for dealing
with the usual cluster of noise-
phobia cases caused by the seasonal
peak of fireworks in late October
and November.

We always try to warn owners in
advance, even suggesting that they start
to prepare sensitive pets many months
beforehand. In the past, our warnings
have not been effective; in most cases,
the stimulus to action continues to be
the first time that a terrified dog is
driven to hysteria by the sound of
bangers outside.

We still do our best
to encourage pre-
emptive action. By the
start of October this
year, we’ll already have
sent handouts to all of
those clients who,
according to our
computer records,
bought products linked
to noise phobia last year. The handouts
contain basic information about dealing
with the problem, and with
recommendations for early action to
prevent the problem rather than waiting
till a crisis.

First of all, we recommend practical steps: making sure that sensitive pets
have a safe, secure den to hide in. A
good example would be a central
heating boiler room: it’s warm and
comfortable, and the ongoing hum of
the boiler helps to drown out any
noises of fireworks in the background.
An alternative would be a cupboard
under the stairs, or anywhere that’s
relatively sheltered from noise outdoors.

We also suggest leaving a loud radio
on, and providing plenty of bedding for
a nervous dog to burrow into. Old,
unwashed items of clothing, such as
sweatshirts, can help to give the pet a sense that the owner is
close by.

Secondly, to help
create a soothing
atmosphere in the den,
we strongly
recommend
pheromones. The plug
in DAP diffusers are ideal: even the name,
Dog Appeasing Pheromone, helps to explain the benefits of the product to
owners.

Comforting effect

The reassuring, comforting effect helps
to reduce anxiety in all situations; we also recommend pheromones for other
times of stress, such as being kennelled,
moving house, or the arrival of a new
pet or person in the home.

In many cases, as well as the
diffuser, we also suggest the use of a
DAP impregnated collar, allowing the
dog to carry around its own source of
comfort.

We’re very aware that the cost of
pheromones may deter some clients
from using them as extensively as we’d
recommend, but there’s a strong core of
pet owners who are so committed to
their pet’s welfare that they welcome
any product that will bring comfort at
stressful times.

Other owners are easy to convince
on objective financial grounds: the cost
of a couple of months of pheromone
use is insignificant compared to the
price of redecorating a home with
scratched doors, chewed carpets and
mangled skirting boards.

Thirdly, we try to teach owners
about modifying their own interactions
with their pets at fireworks time. Our
handout explains that if an owner
makes a big fuss of a
frightened dog, this can
send a message that
“you get lots of
attention if you look
frightened”. Some dogs
then seem to learn that
“looking frightened” is a
good way to get plenty
of affection from their
owner, and the problem
can then occur with
increasing frequency.

We try to persuade
owners to carry on with
normal activities around a
frightened dog, and instead to give
plenty of affection once the pet has
calmed down and is behaving normally.
The aim is to teach the animal that “it’s
good to be calm”.

Fourthly, we try to teach owners
about methods to make their pets
permanently more tolerant of loud
noises, using sound recordings of
fireworks, gunshots and thunderstorms,
such as those available from
www.soundtherapy4pets.com.

Useful technique

We explain that this type of therapy
needs to be done far in advance of the
“real thing”, which means that ideally it
should be commenced in the
springtime, and that such “desensitising
and counter-conditioning” has to be
done very carefully. But we feel that it’s
such a useful technique that if we can
at least get the message across at the
time that the owners are faced with the
behavioural issue, there’s a higher
chance that they’ll remember to take action in due course, when the crisis is
over.

The fifth, and final, part of our
handout deals with the issue that most
people will be looking for in the first
place: sedation to immediately de-stress
affected dogs.

We deliberately mention this last,
emphasising that we see it as emergency
first aid, not as a cure for the problem.
Our policy is to have a “hard-sell”
policy with pheromones, but a very
soft-sell approach to sedatives and anti-anxiety drugs.
It can be difficult to find a combination of
medication that’s
reliably effective for the
purpose, and it’s not
always easy to make
precise dosage
recommendations. We
are happy to stand over
the research that’s been
done on the positive
effects of pheromones,
whereas pharmaceutical
recommendations seem
to be based less on evidence and more on anecdotes and
“advice from experts”.

Our handout includes a PS:
“Remember that dogs have hearing that
is thousands of times more sensitive
than humans: if you find fireworks
annoying, just imagine how your pet
feels about them.”

We’ll probably have the usual last-
minute surge of requests for “fireworks
sedatives”, but we’re hoping for
something new this year: a mid-
October surge in our sales of
pheromone products.

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