How A Natural Response To Fear Can Worsen To Become A Severe Problem
By Julie Moss BSc. Hons, AdvCertVPhys, Dip.APhys.
This blog examines how an unnatural fear response to fireworks occurs. Ways you can help your pet overcome these problems are to be found here.
What causes fear of fireworks?
It is probably fairly obvious that it is the noise which causes the fear in some cats and dogs, as well as horses, livestock and wildlife. Loud bangs are something which most animals and people are programmed to react to. It is a natural response to be startled by a loud bang and this type of inbuilt reaction is to enable the avoidance of danger. People often duck or flinch when surprised by a bang and animals crouch low and make themselves smaller and may also run for cover.
If the noise is an isolated event and there proves to be no immediate danger to avoid, the animal will usually recover fairly quickly and carry on with their previous actions.
If the noises continue, they remain on alert and then try to determine where the safest place to go is to avoid the danger. The way individuals cope with this varies according to previous experience, individual personality and genetic heritage.
Fear is a learned response to something which makes us feel uncertain or unsafe. A loud noise startles an animal and causes them to react to avoid potential danger – that is the physical response to danger. Fear is the emotion attached to the event and serves to enable avoidance of the startling event in the future. This is a sensible strategy to help you stay safe. If you never feared anything you would not learn to avoid potential danger and that would not be a helpful strategy for survival.
The fight or flight response is initiated in reaction to danger, even when there is no actual danger but it simply feels like there is. The response is the same and an animal makes the decision to take flight and escape or go forward and fight off the danger. This is why some dogs may bark at a loud noise and others may run and hide depending on their natural inclination or experience. Others may freeze, become overwhelmed and unable to make a decision.
Previous experience and genetic heritage
Some animals are naturally more fearful than others due to factors like past experience, poor socialisation early in life or due to a genetic predisposition. Others are naturally more confident and less easily startled.
For example, a dog which has been bred from a line of working gundogs is less likely to be frightened by the sound of a gunshot than a dog not bred from working dog lines, because their parents should have been chosen for their ability to respond positively to the sound of gunshot. These dogs are also exposed to the sound of gunshot very early in life and it is part of their daily experience. If they are trained using positive reinforcement, a gunshot signals to them that they need to go off and find whatever has fallen from the sky. This is a fun event for them because they naturally enjoy it as a fundamental part of their life. As a consequence, it has a positive association to them and is remembered that way on an emotional level.
A dog which is not a working gundog (like most of our pet dogs), is genetically of a nervous disposition or which has not been exposed to loud noises in a positive way early in life is much more likely to respond to them in a nervous and fearful way. They have no positive emotion attached to the event and are more likely to want to avoid it rather than see it as heralding a fun event as a gundog might. If the first time they heard a loud noise they ran and hid, then this is likely what they will remember the next time. The positively trained gundog hears a bang and knows it leads to work and enjoyment so they have a ‘let me at it’ approach. The nervous dog hears a bang and knows it leads to feeling unsafe and has a ‘let me get away from it’ approach.
Fear and pain
There is also a link between fear and pain and at its most basic level, this is easy to understand. For instance, if your dog has arthritis, hip dysplasia or any other condition which compromises their mobility, it is likely they will feel pain if they suddenly have to move quickly. They will do this without thinking as they panic and then the pain becomes linked with the thing that frightened them, such as the noise of a firework. If they then try to climb over or under things, this will also cause pain and strengthen the idea that the noise caused the pain. So, fear can make you more sensitive to pain and pain can make you more fearful – a vicious circle.
So, it is well worth getting your dog checked over by your vet and a Veterinary Physiotherapist to make sure there isn’t a hidden painful condition, even if they appear to be running and moving well and particularly if their fear seems to develop suddenly. They can hide painful conditions for a long time until they become more obvious and by then things are quite advanced. Have a look at the information about looking for behavioural or postural signs of hidden pain in dogs.
Specific problems posed by fireworks
The major problem with fireworks is that they are not isolated events. This means a nervous animal has no chance to recover between each one. Today’s fireworks are very loud and can go on for several minutes, which causes big problems for these animals. They hear the first bang and go into hiding because this strategy has worked in the past when they have felt scared. However, if the fireworks continue, they then panic because their strategy isn’t making the scary event go away. This means they don’t feel able to do anything to make the situation better and therefore the fear increases.
This is how phobias develop and phobic animals will react immediately with panic because they no longer have a strategy to make things better and therefore feel powerless and in constant danger. It is a bit like being locked in a room with your worst fear and not being able to find the door to get out. The only thing left to do is panic and this is when the natural fear safety response becomes abnormal and causes prolonged stress to an animal instead of helping them to escape and feel safe.
Another problem with the nature of fireworks is that the sound seems to come from everywhere. As it is only a noise, there is nothing visible to enable an animal to locate the source of the threat. They cannot determine how to run away from something they cannot locate. Fireworks are also travelling through the air as they make a noise and so the source of the noise swirls around, especially if lots of people are setting them off in different locations. Animals this scared don’t know how to get away from something that appears to be everywhere and so they panic even more and feel helpless in their inability to get to safety. They cannot resolve the situation in a way which results in relief and this is terrifying for them.
Generalisation of fear
Your pet may be afraid of fireworks only. Or they may be afraid of lots of things – and not just noises - such as thunder, rain and darkness. Fear can begin in response to a specific event such as a firework going off as your cat is about to use the litter tray one evening in winter. This may result in the cat simply responding to the noise of fireworks in future. However, they may also begin to avoid using the litter tray in the evening when it’s dark. Or worse still, avoid it all the time. This is called generalisation of fear when a specific event triggers a fearful memory, but other factors connected with the event also can cause fear. Another example would be a dog going for a walk in winter when a loud firework goes off on the other side of a fence. The dog may never want to go near that fence again or it may not even go down the road that the fence is on. This may only happen in the dark or they may even feel the same during the day depending how traumatic it was for them.
It depends on the nature of your pet as to whether they generalise easily, but it is also influenced by how long the fear response goes on, how often and how severely frightening the event was. The first year your pet is exposed to fireworks they may develop a fear of them and certain loud banging noises throughout the following year, such as thunder. After bonfire night in the second year, you may find they are even more sensitive to any banging noises, even quiet ones, throughout the following year. If there are then several thunderstorms in a week accompanied by rain, then rain may be added to their list of things to be scared of, because it happened at the same time as the thunder. This list can extend to car doors banging, any whistling sounds or loud rumbly car engines and many other similar noises resulting in the world being filled with scary things every day. Fear that has generalised to this degree can threaten quality of life as the animal gets very little respite from fearful events.
Having a fearful pet may feel overwhelming and be distressing for you. However, there are many things you can try to help your animal – see here for ideas.
Firework season is upon us again, and many animals and people struggle with the noise that some fireworks make.
My name is Elaine Downs, and I am a qualified Body Talk Practitioner for animals and humans. In this short blog I will explain to you how one of the Body Talk techniques can help both animals and humans to feel calmer when they hear the bangs from the fireworks.
First let me give you a short explanation of what Body Talk is and does.
Body Talk is an Energy Therapy which helps to restore balance in areas of your body/mind complex where imbalance has arisen. Every part of our body and mind is connected to, and in constant communication with, every other part of our body and mind. When we feel stressed or ill, it is because the communication has broken down between certain parts of our body/mind complex. Body Talk uses certain techniques to re-balance, and restore that communication between the affected parts. Body Talk works to re-balance the whole, not just a specific bit of an individual’s body/mind complex.
Body Talk is extremely effective in helping animals as well as humans.
The technique which is extremely helpful in calming fears of loud noises is called the Cortices Technique. This technique balances all areas of the brain, and is very calming and relaxing to receive. Recipients have been known to fall asleep whilst receiving a cortices treatment.
It doesn’t take long to do, and you can do it directly on your animal if they don’t mind having their head being touched. Alternatively you can be the surrogate for your animal and do it on yourself for your animal, whilst you are with them. Keep repeating the technique for as long as you need to, until your animal calms down and starts to relax.
Here is a link to a Body Talk Practitioner demonstrating the Cortices Technique on herself.
Here is a link to the Body Talk System website, if you would like to read more about it.
Many of us have heard of Flower Essences such as Dr Bach’s Rescue Remedy to help us and our animals at stressful times. Julie Bowman of Lotus Holistic Essences was invited to inspire us with some tips for flower essences to help on Firework Night and New Years Eve.
Julie told us that her own combinations of Helping Hands, Five Flower and Animal Support are all useful essences to hold in your emergency kit. These can be put into an animal’s food, stroked through their fur, put into their water or sprayed on bedding.
Julie recommends giving them at least 3 times a day during stressful periods such as house moves or the arrival of a new animal or baby. In acute moments of stress such as a noisy firework display, she suggests putting it onto a healthy treat and to keep repeating until the animal settles. The great thing about essences is that they are very safe and have no side effects.
Julie has been using essences since 1984 and has produced her own since 2004. She has worked as a therapist since 1993 and enjoys working extensively with people and animals. She knows that flower essences are effective with animals as many pet owners return for repeat prescriptions. You can contact her to have your own tailor-made essences.
Find out more about Julie’s essences and her book on them here
Ralph’s colitis remained unsettled however and a year later Honey’s founder, Jonathan Self, recommended trying a local holistic vet, Sue Armstrong, and we never looked back. Ralph was put on an elimination diet and treated with homeopathy, and his colitis came under control. He had a thrush infection in his throat, which was treated with homeopathy, and also salmonella and campylobacter infections that were treated with antibiotics conventionally. Ralph had cruciate ligament issues as well. Rather than taking the traditional surgical route, these were treated conservatively with homeopathy, chiropractic and blood platelet therapy (to stimulate natural healing).
Five years later I’m so grateful we were given the advice to see a holistic vet and use homeopathy. I’ve always been naturally minded and although I had zero knowledge of homeopathy I was willing to try. Ralph has had his fair share of medical challenges and without an integrated approach to his care I believe he would have had to take many drugs with all their potential side effects. Thanks to complementary and alternative medicine, Ralph now leads a relatively healthy life.
The British Association of Veterinary Veterinary Surgeons
The Raw Feeding Veterinary Society
The Cavapoo Club
“Everyone thinks they have the best dog in the world and none of them are wrong”
In celebration of dogs everywhere, here is a gallery of a tiny handful of our supporters' canines. They have all been helped by Complementary and Alternative Medicine – some of it life-saving (look out for the interloper!)
Our perfect pooches have benefited from the modalities below either as complementary to conventional treatment or as an alternative (before drugs or surgery).
Herbal Medicine and Supplements
Most are raw fed
And don’t forget our Dog Blog Stars Fire Dog Kai, Lizzie and Ralphie
Lizzie was found in an overcrowded pound in Cyprus. She was very thin weighing just 8.5kg, half her current body weight, and was dirty and terrified. She had a horrific infected leg injury – probably caused by being tied up too tightly by a rope. She was on strong antibiotics for Ehrlichia canis, a serious bacterial infection that is transmitted through tick bites.
For the first year her leg scar was not troublesome and although the skin was like tissue paper and split easily it usually healed. However, a year later, the split had grown considerably and antibiotics failed to get the infection under control. The wound increased in size and covered the scar tissue area, and became heavily granulated. After discussing the options and prognosis with a homeopathic vet (with the full backing of our conventional vet), we decided on surgery to cover the scar with skin from her abdomen.
Unfortunately two years later, the original scar tissue (not covered by the skin graft) started to split and would not heal. It became red raw, weepy and inflamed, and Lizzie developed stiffness and limited mobility in the joint. After repeated trips to the vet and many courses of antibiotics (which had no effect despite a swab to establish the most appropriate ones), we agreed that continuous antibiotics were not an effective long-term treatment plan. We had run out of conventional options except for one - surgical amputation.
We turned to our homeopathic vet, again with full backing of our conventional vet who gladly sent off Lizzie's full medical record in the hope that amputation could be avoided. He thought that amputation was extreme and there were alternatives we should try first. We provided a full history of Lizzie’s life, lifestyle, personality, habits, and answered questions about what she liked and disliked. Afterwards Lizzie was given two remedies, one to be taken each morning, the other in the evening, for a month to stimulate tissue healing, regeneration and repair. We were also given a third combination remedy should any sign of wound infection appear (to avoid using antibiotics). We didn't need to use this.
Within two weeks, the wound had scabbed over, the infection, hotness and weeping had disappeared and Lizzie had full mobility again. And best of all, she kept her leg! Galen myotherapy helped to break down the scar tissue and release the muscles and, along with proprioception work, Lizzie gained full use of her leg. Lizzie has needed no antibiotics since she took the homeopathic remedies. You can read more about Galen myotherapy in our Fire Dog Kai blog.
Lizzie’s recovery was supported by raw feeding, blood titre tests rather than vaccinations (that showed strong antibodies despite having only had one course of injections in Cyprus), and faecal worm tests rather than chemical wormers.
Sceptics of course say that it is mere coincidence that the wound healed as soon as homeopathy was prescribed and that the collective residual antibiotics finally, several months after not working and the courses had finished, removed the stubborn infection.
But we know which treatment worked: the one that gave almost instant and long-lasting results – and kept Lizzie on all four legs!
The scandal of the unpublished Australian Report which showed homeopathy IS effective
CAM4animals congratulates the Homeopathy Research Institute (HRI) and welcomes Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) decision to publish their original report into the effectiveness of homeopathy. The first draft produced in 2012 was suppressed by the NHMRC in favour of one published in March 2015.
It is significant that the 2012 draft report, The Effectiveness of Homeopathy: an overview review of secondary evidence, concluded that there is “encouraging evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathy” in five medical conditions.
Its existence was only established through freedom of information requests. The Commonwealth Ombudsman is currently considering charges of scientific misconduct, bias and conflict of interest against NHMRC. The Australian Senate concluded that “This is a serious research scandal of the highest degree, revealing the extent to which the review team secretly manipulated the methods well after the contractor had already collated and assessed the evidence, with none of the changes disclosed in the final report released to the public.”
Releasing the first report is a major step forward in the acceptance of homeopathic medicine and its role in integrative health care in both human and animal health.
It is of particular significance in the UK where the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has effectively banned the alternative use of homeopathy and other holistic treatments such as acupuncture, osteopathy and chiropractic care since they changed their position on the Veterinary Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAM) in 2017. These treatments can only be used alongside or after conventional treatment, NOT as stand alone, first line, alternative options.
CAM4animals undertook a detailed audit delivered to the RCVS in November 2018, which highlighted that the RCVS based its position on three fundamentally flawed and inaccurate reports, one of which was the 2015 (second) Australian Report. We consider the use of these reports to have been an inappropriate basis on which to change the RCVS position. Our analysis is now validated by the words of NHMRC CEO, Professor Anne Kelso, who clarified that NHMRC’s second Homeopathy Review published in 2015 “did not conclude that homeopathy was ineffective”, despite claims to that effect in media reports and by anti-homeopathy campaigners.
In essence, the RCVS used the 2015 Australian Report to restrict certain veterinary treatments legally available in the UK and the practices of those vets who use them, unaware that the original report had found positive evidence for the use of homeopathy.
CAM4animals welcomes the honesty and transparency shown by the NHMRC and echoes Rachel Roberts, HRI Chief Executive, who said of the release:
“For over three years NHMRC have refused to release their 2012 draft report on homeopathy, despite Freedom of Information requests and even requests by members of the Australian Senate. To see this document finally seeing the light of day is a major win for transparency and public accountability in research.”
Given that the RCVS has always said it would consider evidence for the successful use of homeopathy, CAM4animals calls on it to reconsider and amend its position on homeopathy and other CAM in light of this significant development.
CAM4animals will follow the progress of this report and update with further blogs. Click here for information on the Release the First Report Campaign - and the HRI view can be found here .
The following is HRI’s assessment of the Australian report and was used as a basis to fight for the release of the original report.
These are interesting times on Facebook and Twitter. Those of us running our social media profiles watch as our supporters push back against some pretty vitriolic views of a small group of known homeopathy denialists including some vets resistant to considering other options to drugs.
One thing needs to be made clear about where CAM4animals stands. We are NOT anti-vet. Quite the opposite. We are also NOT "anti-vax". Many of us have to vaccinate in order to compete, but we are mostly anti over-vaccination (in line with WSAVA guidelines). We are devoted and sensible pet owners and farmers who want to work closely with our vets to achieve the best possible health for our animals with the minimal amount of chemical intervention.
In order to do this, we all understand that sometimes pharmaceutical products are necessary BUT, some animals may not respond to this option or have shown severe adverse effects. It is therefore useful to know that there are other options available either after you’ve tried drugs or before you go down that route because you have knowledge of your animal’s history. Responsible pet owners want to have a conversation with their vet about this and we are confident that any vet worth their salt will also want to have this conversation.
All of our supporters know that various holistic modalities can work for their animals and sometimes they don’t, just as drugs can work and sometimes, they don’t. Our supporters also know that there is a time and a place for pharmaceutical intervention; emergency care is an obvious example. But, following emergency care, and even before the vet gets there, a modality such as homeopathy can be very useful. You can address the shock of an accident while waiting for the vet and remedies are well known by homeopaths to speed up healing following surgery. This is integrated care at its best. It can also empower the vet nurse who is handling the situation either till the vet arrives or during surgery after-care. (Look out for our blogs on this topic.)
We are all familiar with the dog with arthritis who does well on Green Lipped Mussel or Omega 3. These sort of products are available on many vet surgery shelves. They are often used successfully before conventional treatment is needed, staving off the day when Metacam or similar has to be used to prolong quality of life. Similarly, homeopathy, acupuncture, herbs, hydrotherapy or the bodywork therapies can be invaluable in these situations. This demonstrates well how alternative, conventional and complementary care would be used in treating one animal at different stages of the disease.
What if this drive to ridicule holistic veterinary practitioners eventually gets a hold? The result is that young vets might be turned against CAM particularly by being fed inaccurate information about the effectiveness of the Big Five - acupuncture, homeopathy, herbs, chiropractic and osteopathic care. As a result, not only have our new vets lost a whole tool-kit of options available to them to achieve the best possible outcome for their patients, but we lose the skill pool of veterinary CAM knowledge used to develop popular and commonly used products. We also stand to lose the understanding of raw feeding and the usefulness of the Big Five in integrated veterinary healthcare. This leaves the responsible animal owner not only with just pharma options, but also a complete absence of knowledge on alternatives. This is a future CAM4animals will fight hard to resist.
So, to be very clear…. CAM4animals recognises the need for pharmaceutical intervention. We also support the use of alternative healthcare, particularly because it protects the veterinary skill pool able to provide the knowledge and research needed to ensure a future for complementary and integrated healthcare.
Can we please have a halt to the ridiculing of the responsible animal owner by anti-CAM vets and their sceptic supporters. This is not helping to engender a good relationship between vets and their paying customers. We also call for a halt to the aggressive demands by anti-CAM vets for their customers to provide information and evidence of alternative medicines. There is a large body of evidence available and there are also fully trained colleagues for specialist help. Ideally, CAM should be comprehensively covered in vet and vet nurse courses. In the meantime, here are some good places for both vet and animal owner to start finding out accurate information.
Our blog here! – we are working to provide accurate and well-informed information on all forms of CAM.
AO The Association of Animal Osteopaths
ABVA The Association of British Veterinary Acupuncturists
BAHVS The British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons
BAVH The British Association of Veterinary Herbalists
BVCA The British Veterinary Chiropractic Association
CMG The Canine Massage Guild
HRI The Homeopathy Research Institute HRI
MCA The McTimony Chiropractic Association
It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream and keep a few cattle and sheep that I started to think a bit harder about nutrition. Simplistically, I believed that cattle and sheep lived in fields and ate grass – let’s face it, a three-year-old child could tell you that! My livestock had the good fortune to be kept in this way, but not the cattle at the nearby dairy farm, where the poor creatures were on very nearly a zero grazing system (not at all uncommon). I felt strongly that this was wrong and was chatting to the herd manager one day when he asked me why I fed my dogs biscuits. Well, to say this was a lightbulb moment would be putting it mildly!
It was also interesting that my large animal vets were telling me NOT to worm my sheep and cattle, but rather to look at faecal samples for parasite eggs. On the other hand, my dog vets were telling me to deworm and flea treat them monthly. How did this make sense?
Another turning point was the opportunity to attend the Homeopathy at Wellie Level course, introducing farmers to using homeopathy as part of their stock management. This course absolutely blew my mind. I’d been interested in homeopathy for ages, largely due to hearing vets talking about what rubbish it was ~ I am rather contrary! It made so much sense to work WITH the body rather than against it, wherever possible, and I have seen astonishing results with my livestock, my dogs and myself.
I have been incredibly fortunate to have had my eyes opened in these ways. It makes me very sad that my professional governing body, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, is so un-supportive of vets who are open minded enough to explore the whole gamut of ways to help keep animals well – that’s all their guardians want, and surely the animals themselves too. I am lucky to work closely with vets who focus on the importance of real, species appropriate foods and to have my own animals treated by vets offering acupuncture, homeopathy and many of the other treatment modalities frowned upon by the RCVS.
My own experience certainly isn’t statistically significant, but losing my first dog aged nine who was absolutely riddled with cancer and having been fed on kibble, compared to losing my second dog aged just short of 17 and having been raw fed, not vaccinated (but regularly titre and worm tested) and rarely having any pharmaceutical medicines, convinces me that I have followed the right path, and I am determined to do what I can to encourage others to do likewise.
I am looking forward to popping in here from time to time to give you more Vet Nurse stories and information. Meanwhile, you can find more information here:
Morag Sutherland RVN, APDT, ABTC
Morag is a Registered Veterinary Nurse and a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (UK) and the Association of INTO Dogs. Morag has a special interest in nutrition for dogs and horses, particularly in how it affects their behaviour. She is co-owner of Gelert Behaviour Training, which offers dog and other pet training services, as well as regular workshops, talks and events across the Midlands, including Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.