Research from the Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network shows few pet owners get veterinary help for noise phobias, and those who do seek support often do so too late.
The study showed that of more than 100,000 veterinary consultations between September 2012 and July 2014, only 75 were clearly for firework-related phobia.
As fearful reactions to loud noises such as thunder and fireworks are common in dogs, and likely to be an issue in many other animals too, a higher number of consultations might have been expected.
The research was conducted by SAVSNET, the surveillance partnership between the British Small Animal Veterinary Association and the University of Liverpool.
Even among those owners who do seek help, nearly half wait until the week before bonfire night, which gives vets little time to identify the best treatment options for each pet.
Rachel Casey, senior lecturer in companion animal behaviour and welfare at the University of Bristol, contributed to the BSAVA position statement on the management and treatment of firework phobias. She isn’t surprised by the SAVSNET data.
“This low number, while regrettable, is consistent with a previous survey of owners, where fewer than than 30 per cent who reported noise-related fears in their dogs sought any veterinary help, and fewer than than half of these went to their vet for advice,” she said.
“It is important for vets to highlight to their clients that fear reactions to fireworks are a serious welfare concern, which are better dealt with well in advance of the fireworks season.”
The BSAVA recommends veterinary surgeons advise evidence-based therapies for fear responses.
These would include behavioural management using desensitisation and counter-conditioning and the use of short-term medication with anxiolytic and amnesic affects. Pheromones as an adjunct may be beneficial in some cases.
The research looking at client visits for noise phobias was made possible by data from SAVSNET, which works with vet practices to collect anonymous pet health data in real time from across the UK.
Alan Radford at the University of Liverpool explained: “SAVNSET data represents a unique opportunity for both members of the public and veterinary scientists to better understand the health and disease of UK pets.”
“This firework project shows how SAVSNET can provide new insight even for conditions that are seemingly seen rarely by vets”.