A SYNTHETIC version of naturally produced canine chemicals may offer relief to thousands of dogs suffering from fright and stress caused by fireworks.
Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) is a synthetic version of chemicals produced by a bitch shortly after whelping which helps to reassure and calm newborn puppies.
Recent research by scientists at the University of Lincoln has shown that DAP may help to control a wide range of stress-related conditions including firework phobias and general fear of loud noises.
"Unlike drugs, DAP does not sedate the animal and make it sleepy but allows it to continue about its daily business," said Daniel Mills, principal lecturer in behavioural studies and animal welfare at the university.
"Another advantage is that a single unit may run through the whole season and potentially help in the case of those unexpected occasions, when drugs may not have been administered."
The research, published last year in The Veterinary Record, reveals that in a study of 30 dogs who showed signs of fear in response to the sight and sound of fireworks last year there was a general reduction in the severity of their problem compared to previous years, following the continuous use of the DAP in the home when combined with traditional therapies.
"Our interpretation of why this pheromone therapy works is based on the release of a chemical signal which makes things appear familiar," Mr Mills said.
"In many animals it is uncertainty or novelty which triggers the signs of anxiety and stress which are so distressing. If that uncertainty can be removed then the stress will cease to exist."
DAP is available as a plug-in diffuser from most vets, although prices for this may vary. In many cases, using the diffuser has negated the need for drug treatment.
One dog owner who has seen the positive effects of DAP at first hand is Anne Mears from East Coker, Somerset, who started using a DAP diffuser for her elderly Collie Dixie just before Bonfire Night last year.
"I bought a DAP diffuser for Dixie as a last resort really. Over the past few years it seems, as fireworks have been getting louder, his terror has increased. He paces, trembles, whimpers and drools continuously, and tries to climb onto my lap. It is impossible to get him into the garden for some hours after the noise has stopped, so on occasions his house training has broken down - which only serves to upset him further. I find sleep for myself impossible too, as he gets into bed with me, too scared to be out of bodily contact.
As he is getting on for 12 now I was very worried about the possible side effects of heavy sedation, which was fast becoming the only option I hadn't tried.
To my surprise - and total delight - the diffuser has worked superbly!
Dixie spent this year's Bonfire Night laid next to my chair, quite happily snoozing. When a couple of very loud explosions happened overhead he did get up and come and nudge me with his nose, so I gave him a few drops of Rescue Remedy, and instigated a game with a loud squeaky toy, and that was all I needed to do.
I am delighted, and have the DAP diffuser on now, over the Christmas and New Year period, confident that it will work its magic should we have fireworks then.
The only drawback, of course, is that unless I have it on continuously I can't protect Dixie from the random fireworks which seem to be set off at all times of the year, and I am annoyed that my elderly boy should have to suffer this way because a few selfish people like letting off explosives. It simply isn't fair."
See also Nick Mays story 'Firework ban sought for 2003'