Recently I received a text 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 a drug that would help Simba cope with the loud sounds that can be expected during Diwali. While other families stock up on fireworks and candy for the festivities, some pet parents are concerned about how their pets will handle the festivities ahead.
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Phonophobia, the fear of loud sounds, is commonly seen in many pets. Our pets are instinctively trained to recognize and stay clear of a potential threat in the environment. It’s similar to astraphobia, the fear of thunder and lightning, which again many pets suffer. It is therefore not abnormal that Simba tends to shiver and hide during Diwali as soon as he hears firecrackers.
Some animals can even show their anxiety by salivating too much, continuously yawning or pacing. If your pet has a similar fear as well, make sure there is a safe space in your home where they can find comfort. Let them hide if they wish, don’t force them to face their fears or the sound. A blanket wrapped tightly around their body also helps some animals calm them down. It works the same as swaddling a baby.
For immediate relief, close your windows so that the sound intensity decreases. You can play the television or other soothing music around the house to muffle the noise of firecrackers. Most importantly, let your pet be; trying to calm him down or rock him can actually reinforce the fear. Do things as if nothing has happened, as if things are normal. It also helps your pet to 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 parent and find out this year that your pet doesn’t cope well with loud sounds, you will need to slowly start conditioning them. Introduce them to different sounds and positively reinforce them by giving them a treat or something they like to eat. Gradually increase the intensity of these sounds until they are comfortable with the loud sounds.
Consistent training will eventually help them overcome their aversion. Severe anxiety or disabling fear when urinating or defecating may require the intervention of a professional canine behaviorist.
While they are conditioned to get used to these sounds, anxiety relieving medications can sometimes be used simultaneously to provide respite. A qualified veterinarian can prescribe medication depending on the situation and the level of anxiety. However, just using medication does not help. It must be accompanied by appropriate training.
It’s not just noise, Diwali has other dangers as well. I see a lot of chocolate addicted patients 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 that has consumed an entire box of chocolates. Therefore, those huge gift boxes of chocolates that we receive from parents should be prohibited for pets.
Grapes and raisins are also toxic to dogs and cats. Dried fruits traded during Diwali should also be kept out of the reach of your pets, as raisins can cause kidney failure. In general, make sure your pets don’t eat candy. When I receive a patient suffering from some form of stomach ache during Diwali, I know that he has participated in the family Diwali candy store.
We all tend to put on a few pounds during Diwali because of the high calorie food that we consume. This same food, if shared with your pet, can cause pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas caused by eating foods high in fat and calories and is extremely painful. While it’s understandable that we want our furry family members to join in on Diwali festivities, it’s best if we stick to giving them their usual 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 arrived with burns to his legs after hitting a set of lit diyas. Just minor burns that could be healed easily, but it’s a reminder that pet parents need to be a bit more careful with fire and smoke in their homes.
Inhalation of smoke may cause coughing or bronchitis. If your cat has feline asthma, it may get worse during this time. If you find your cat coughing during Diwali, it may be a good idea to replace it with LED Diyas in the house.
As parents of pets, we need to celebrate this festival a bit cautiously with our fur babies in mind. May this Diwali continue to be a festival of lights and not of fears for our pets.
Dr Nameeta Nadkarni is a veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai who enjoys playing the piano in her spare time and is ruled by her whimsical cat, Catbury, at home.
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