Halloween is an exciting occasion for all and has become a bigger and bolder event in Ireland in recent years. The days of fearing ‘All Hallows Eve’ when the ghosts of the past came out to play are dead and buried. But for a small majority of Ireland’s population the upcoming festivity is not a time to celebrate but rather shut their door to the suddenly loud, raucous world and to crave for peace and quiet. These are the pet owners, the people who, year after year, watch a beloved member of their family tear around the house in terror, cry out in fright and become inconsolable, even to those they are most loyal. For many, Halloween is indeed a nightmarish occasion but for all the wrong reasons.
Several homeowners will nod their heads in agreement to the fact that as soon as the first ‘banger’ goes up into the sky, normally up to two weeks before 31st October, the family dog will begin to bark, may start to run around the house and in more tragic cases, escape from the back garden and go missing at the most dangerous time of year for pets. A cat will tend to climb the nearest tree and can remain safely in the branches until it feels secure to come down but a dog can run around in a mindless frenzy for hours, and could hurt itself or worse, others in its fright.
Mark Coulter, MVD, resident vet of Hillcrest Veterinary Surgery in Clonsilla says “I have pet owners who come to me asking for remedies to help their pet deal with Halloween but most often they come in the day before Halloween and that’s just too late for any kind of solution. Pet owners should be coming in at the start of the month, and then I can administer effective treatments that will be taken into effect by Halloween.”
Mark tends to steer clear of the use of sedatives for pets, in particular dogs, in contrast to several years ago when sedatives were most often used, “It tends to aggravate the problem as the pet is still able to hear the noise of the fireworks going off but is unable to get away from that noise.” It is only in severe cases that a sedative will still be used.
Ciaran Cochrane, a dog owner, knows very well how sedatives can work to calm a frenzied dog at Halloween. “Ben went wild as soon as Halloween came around. He was not himself and the sedatives the vet gave us stopped working after two years and the problem became progressively worse.”
Ben, the dog in question, was bought as a family pet and was much loved. But from the time he was a puppy, Halloween sparked something inside of him that appeared incurable.
“He would begin to pant and would never sit still,” says Ciaran. “As he got older he started to destroy the garden as soon as bangers began to go off, he would bite the fence and end up hurting himself. He would run off and come back several hours later with blood and cuts all over his face. When we brought him inside he would begin to chew and scrape at the doors and chairs. It was as if he were trying to dig himself away from the sounds. It was horrible.’
Ciaran never resorted to any of the behavioural approaches vets now use to tackle the problem of pet behaviour around the time of Halloween. Natural extracts are used several weeks prior to Halloween, ‘Calm Aid’, being one in particular that Mark Coulter uses.
“It gives a sedative effect without being one and used over a matter of weeks gradually makes the dog become calm and relaxed.”
A new hit with pet owners battling behavioural problems arising in homes, is the ‘DAP’ or the Dog appeasing pheromone which can be used for cats, dogs or any large household pet .Plugged into a wall, safely and easily, pheromones are sent out and around the household that reach the dog or pet in question, relaxing them in a natural, normal way.
Though Ben is now passed away and there is no new dog or pet in Ciarans home, he welcomes the new knowledge of these behavioural tools in particular the ‘Scary Sounds CD’ which is a CD played over a couple of months in a home, playing loud noises that would be scary for a pet to hear and allows them to understand the noises are in fact, not scary at all. Mark assures me that it has been a success in research carried out across England where he previously worked and he hopes it will become more popular in Ireland over the coming years.
Dogs Trust, a well known homeless dog shelter, in England and Ireland has a number of useful tips on their website when it comes to looking after your animals this Halloween.
“Provide a quiet and cosy familiar place in the house for your pet to retreat to so he is less likely to be exposed to children in costume. Provide him with chew toys, his favourite blanket or a comfort item.”
“Think twice about taking your pet on a trick or treat outing, as the extra excitement around the event or added attention from strangers he may not recognise may make cause distress. Also other dogs may not be too welcoming of another dog on their territory.”
Mark adds to these tips with one he considers most important, “if you are near a road, make sure your pet, dogs in particular, do not have access to it. One of the most common occurrences every year is frightened dogs escaping, running out onto roads and getting hit by a car.”
So as the fireworks light up the sky and ‘Fido’ begins to whimper remember that at the end of the day, a dog or cat does not understand the noise means no danger. In today’s world there are many alternative and behavioural solutions to these problems rather than strong sedatives and in using these methods, your dog may benefit in other behavioural scenarios as well. Vets are always around to help with an issue and look towards the tips they give you to give ‘Spike’ a care free October as any pet deserves