Q. The holiday season sees an increase in storms and the use of fireworks. How do I keep my pet calm?
A. Startling at loud noises is a normal survival mechanism for animals, because loud noises are often associated with danger. In most cases, when an animal is exposed repeatedly to a noise without anything ‘bad’ happening (painful or fearful experience), the animal will habituate to that noise, meaning he will learn that it does not mean anything and so it no longer causes fear. In some dogs this does not seem to happen and instead of getting used to the noise, the dog becomes increasingly fearful and even develops a noise-related phobia. In order to know how to help your dog, it is important to be able to tell whether he is having a normal, healthy fear response as opposed to being extremely fearful or phobic. If your dog has never heard fireworks before, it would be normal for him to startle at the first bang. If, once there have been a few bangs, he seems to realise that they actually don’t mean anything and carries on with whatever he was doing when the noise started, then that would be a normal response to a startling noise and you needn’t worry. However, if your dog becomes increasingly agitated (panting, pacing, drooling, dilated pupils, incontinence, refusing food, trying to escape or trying to hide away), then he is experiencing extreme distress and needs help.
If your dog is highly agitated and cannot seem to find any way to relieve his fear, then it would be negligent not to seek help from your vet in the form of medication. Management and safety is also very important for dogs who have extreme fearful reactions. Where possible, dogs should be kept safely indoors where escaping and getting lost is not an option. They should also be kept away from sliding doors or large windows, as panic may cause them to run right through these.
Finally, it used to be said that ‘comforting’ a fearful dog ‘rewarded’ the behaviour and so taught a dog that it is good to be scared. This is nonsense – fear is an emotion and you cannot reward an emotion! While we should not fuss and act strangely so as to alarm our dogs, there is nothing wrong with giving physical contact where it is sought or talking to our dogs in a reassuring manner.
Q. Do rabbits show specific signs of aging and do older rabbits need specific care?
Aging pets require different care. But how do you know at which age you need to start a different care routine? And how do you tell a rabbit’s age if, for example, he is a rescue? The average lifespan of a healthy rabbit is 10 to 12 years. We consider them to be ‘seniors’ from seven to eight years old. Older rabbits can commonly suffer from arthritis of the joints, kidney problems and tooth problems. There isn’t really anything concrete that you can use to age a rabbit, but older bunnies tend to be less active and often have less glossy coats.
Your older bunny friend does need some special attention. We recommend yearly health checks with an experienced rabbit vet to pick up any problems before they become severe. This will include a full physical and dental examination and possibly some routine blood tests as needed. Some older rabbits may develop overgrowth of the cheek teeth, making it difficult for them to eat their hay, which is critical to their gut health. The overgrown teeth can be filed down to make the rabbit more comfortable. For rabbits with painful joints, joint supplements should be added to the food and anti-inflammatories may be prescribed.
It is critical that your older rabbit eat a healthy diet consisting of good-quality grass hay with a limited amount of high-quality (not supermarket) rabbit pellets and some greens and vegetables. For house bunnies, access to unfiltered natural sunlight (not through a window) is beneficial. With proper care and regular health checks you can expect your rabbit to have a good number of happy golden years.