Recently, I received a text message from a client, who wanted to know how to comfort her four-year-old Golden Retriever, Simba. She wanted to know if I could recommend any medication that will help Simba deal with the loud sounds that can be expected during Diwali. While other families stock up on fireworks and sweets for the festivities, some pet parents have been worrying about how their pets will handle the upcoming festivities.
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Phonophobia, the fear of loud sounds, is commonly seen in a lot of pets. Our pets are instinctively trained to recognise and stay away from a potential threat in the environment. It's similar to astraphobia, the fear of thunder and lightening, which again, a lot of pets suffer from. It isn’t unnatural then that Simba tends to shiver and hide during Diwali as soon as he hears firecrackers go off.
Some pets may even show their anxiety by salivating too much, yawning continuously or pacing up and down. If your pet also has a similar fear, ensure that there is a safe space in your home where they can find comfort. Let them hide if they want to, do not force them to face their fears or the sound. A tightly wrapped blanket around their bodies also helps some pets calm them down. It works the same way as swaddling a baby does.
For immediate relief, close your windows so that the intensity of the sound reduces. You can play the television or other soothing music in the house to muffle the noise made by the firecrackers. Most importantly, let your pet be; trying to calm it down or cradling it may actually reinforce the fear. Go about things as if nothing is out of place, like things are normal. This helps your pet also feel more secure. Cats may choose to hide, so providing a cardboard box will help them cope with this ordeal.
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If you are a new pet parent and find out this year that your pet does not take well to loud sounds, you will have to slowly start conditioning your pet. Introduce them to different sounds and provide positive reinforcement by giving them a treat or something they like eating. Increase the intensity of these sounds gradually till they get comfortable with loud sounds.
Consistent training will eventually help them get over the aversion. Severe anxiety or crippling fear, where they urinate or defecate, may require the intervention of a professional canine behaviourist.
While they are being conditioned to get accustomed to these sounds, sometimes medication to relieve anxiety can also be used simultaneously to provide respite. A qualified veterinarian can prescribe medication based on the predicament and level of anxiety. However, just using medication does not help. It has to be accompanied with appropriate training.
It’s not just the noise, Diwali also comes with other hazards. I get to see a lot patients with chocolate poisoning this season. Chocolate is toxic to dogs and cats and can cause vomiting, diarrhea and even seizures. Every year, during Diwali, I end up treating at least one pet who has consumed an entire box of chocolates. Therefore, those huge gift boxes of chocolates that we receive from relatives should be kept off limits from pets.
Grapes and raisins are also toxic to dogs and cats. Dry fruits that are exchanged during Diwali must also be kept out of reach from your pets as raisins can cause kidney failure. In general, ensure your pets don’t get a bite of any sweets. When I get a patient with some form of tummy upset during Diwali, I know it has partaken in the family’s stash of Diwali sweets.
We all tend to put on a few pounds during Diwali because of the high calorie food we consume. This same food if shared with your pet can cause pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is inflammation of pancreas from eating high fat, high calorie food and is extremely painful. While it is understandable that we want our furry family members to join in on the Diwali festivities, it is best that we stick to giving them their regular food.
Another thing to keep in mind is to be careful where you place your diyas on the floor. Last year I had a five-year-old Whippet called Cloud, who came in with burn injuries to the legs after having run into a set of lit diyas. Just minor burns that could be cured easily but it’s a reminder of the fact that pet parents need to be a little more careful with fire and smoke in their homes.
Smoke inhalation can cause coughing or bronchitis. If your cat suffers from feline asthma, it can get aggravated during this time. If you find your cat coughing during Diwali, it may be a good idea to replace with LED Diyas in the house instead.
As pet parents, we must celebrate this festival a little cautiously keeping our fur babies in mind. Let this Diwali continue to be a festival of lights and not frights for our pets.
Dr Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai, who loves to play the piano in her free time and is ruled by her whimsical cat, Catbury, at home.
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