Preparing for Fireworks Season: Dog and Client Management
As we enter October, we’re sure you’re all very aware that the (increasingly prolonged and extended) Firework Season is nearly upon us. Doubtless you have prepared a range of educational resources for your clients and may already be giving out advice. In this article, we’re going to review the current recommendations for management, and take an evidence-based look at some of the options.
Noise fears – how common are they?
This is a difficult question to answer, in part because some degree of heightened arousal at an unexpected noise is physiological, not pathological. However, if we are to take the (reasonable) assumption that if the owner notices that the dog is distressed, we can reasonably assume that they are and can establish some baseline numbers. The PDSA reported in 2018 that 40% of dogs showed signs of fear of fireworks(1), while in 2019, 23% of owners stated they would like to change behaviors in their dog which are associated with the fear of fireworks(2). Clearly, this is a substantial problem, with 51% of vets reporting it had worsened in the previous two years (1). Of course, it remains to be seen how the “Pandemic Puppy” situation will impact these figures (3), but it seems unlikely that these dogs will be less sensitive to loud noises than their pre-pandemic counterparts.
The “standard” approaches
Typical approaches advocated for managing firework (and similar noise-related) fears include provision of a den or hide, insulating the area from sound as well as possible, providing background noise, and avoiding punishment (4).
There has been some controversy about the degree of interaction owners should give dogs displaying fearful signs; however, while the end goal must be to help the dog develop independent coping strategies, going to the owner for reassurance cannot “reinforce” a fear response (as long as the owner stays calm) and may be a suitable short-term strategy (5).
These approaches are highly effective at minimising the adverse effects of a noise phobia – and we would strongly recommend that your clients initiate them sooner rather than later, so as to be prepared.
What about pheromone treatments?
Dog Appeasing Pheromone is widely recommended for management of noise fears. The evidence base historically was fairly weak for its use, but there are now a number of specific studies that support its usefulness in noise-fear situations (6)(7). However, it is important to note that the impact was limited and highly variable between dogs. While DAP is a useful adjunctive management, it must not be seen as a solution for any but the most mildly affected dogs.
Longer term management
For many years, the preferred long-term management approach has been a desensitisation and counter-conditioning programme. Examples include the Clix and Sounds Scary CDs and playlists. This is a thoroughly evidence based and effective approach – assuming the owner can maintain compliance – but is not of benefit to us right now, as it requires a long term phased approach.(8)
There are a range of medical options available; the mainstay of medical therapy are the benzodiazepines, with their marked anxiolytic effect, and there is increasing interest in imepitoin as well, which has recently been licensed for use specifically in noise phobia.(9) However, while the side effects are much less than with older drugs, many owners are still reluctant to routinely medicate their dogs – especially with fireworks being used for several months of the year.
The aim of YuCALM is to be the “happy medium” between behavioural adaptations and pheromones, and the psychopharmaceuticals. It is formulated to help reduce stress, support calm behaviour, and ease anxiety. It is built upon well established and well researched components, including:
Lemon balm, or Melissa officinalis, extract has been demonstrated in laboratory studies to exert a mild to moderate anxiolytic-like effect in a range of species(10)(11). This effect is mediated by the inhibition of gamma-aminobutyric acid transaminase – in other words, the enzyme that breaks down the GABA inhibitory neurotransmitter in vivo. This leads to an increased GABA concentration at the post-synaptic terminal, and increased chloride flows into the post-synaptic neurone – the same end-stage mechanism as benzodiazepines, hence the effect(12).
GABA Fermentate Blend:
The unique combination of natural GABA and L-arginine helps to maintain the calming pathways in the brain and support relaxation
The amino acid, L-tryptophan is metabolised into serotonin in the brain and has been shown to reduce stress in dogs.(13)
Managing the Client
The key point over the next 2-4 weeks is to engage the client. All of the standard approaches are valid, but it is important to reach out to your client base at this point, reminding them of the importance of early preparation. We recommend…
- Solid social media engagement. Try to get people on your social media pages talking and engaging with you and the content – that can be far more persuasive than an appeal from authority. If you want any ideas, take a look at our Toolkit!
- Displays – graphical displays are much better than text. Also, displaying supplements (ideally YuCALM of course, but anything that you are recommending without prescription) prominently in reception or client areas, is an excellent way to get people talking.
- Consider more proactive reaching out – for example, if a records search suggests that a client ordered a fear-management product or received a prescription for an anxiolytic last year, consider emailing or writing to them to suggest they be prepared early this year.
Remember, you know how important early preparation is, in terms of habituation to the new den or routine, and loading doses of the supplement or medication. It’s just a matter of making sure the owners know how important it is too!
- PDSA Animal Wellbeing Report 2018, available:
- PDSA Animal Wellbeing Report 2019, available:
- BBC News 10th September 2021, More people trying to give up their lockdown dogs, says charity, available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-58518892
- Hargrave, C. (2019) Preparing for fireworks now and sound sensitivity later, The Veterinary Nurse 10:7
- Fellowship of Animal Behaviour Clinicians (2020) Sound Sensitivities Emergency Management Blog available at https://fabclinicians.org/sound-sensitivities-emergency-management/
- Sheppard, G, and Mills, DS (2003) Evaluation of dog-appeasing pheromone as a potential treatment for dogs fearful of fireworks, The Veterinary Record 152:14
- Landsberg, GM, Beck, A, Lopez, A, Deniaud, M, Araujo, JA, Milgram, NW (2015) Dog-appeasing pheromone collars reduce sound-induced fear and anxiety in beagle dogs: a placebo-controlled study, The Veterinary Record 177:10
- Levine, ED, Ramos, R, Mills, DS (2007) A prospective study of two self-help CD based desensitization and counter-conditioning programmes with the use of Dog Appeasing Pheromone for the treatment of firework fears in dogs (Canis familiaris), Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Volume 105, Issue 4,
- NOAH Compendium (2021) Pexion available at https://www.noahcompendium.co.uk/?id=-447727
- Ibarra A, Feuillere N, Roller M, Lesburgere E, Beracochea D (2010) Effects of chronic administration of Melissa officinalis L. extract on anxiety-like reactivity and on circadian and exploratory activities in mice, Phytomedicine, 17:6
- Cases, J, Ibarra, A, Feuillère, N, Roller, MS, Samir (2010) Pilot trial of Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract in the treatment of volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances, Mediterranean Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, 4:3
- Pineau, S, Legros, C, Mattei, C (2016) The Medical use of Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) and Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) as Natural Sedatives: Insight into their Interactions with GABA Transmission, International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology & Pharmacotherapy, 1:112
- Effect of dietary intake of L-tryptophan supplementation on working dogs demonstrating stress related behaviours.
Pereira, G.G., Fragoso, S. & Pires, E.Centre of Clinical Behaviour and Animal Welfare, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Lusófona University, Lisbon, Portugal