Firework season is upon us and it can be a frightening time for pets. In 2018, a report published by the PDSA found that around 40% of cat and dog owners reported that their pet is afraid of fireworks.
Sudden loud bangs and flashes which fireworks give off can cause anxiety in pets and therefore cause dogs and cats to feel stressed. If you have a pet that is already anxious and struggles with new situations, don’t hesitate to consult an animal behaviourist for advice and guidance.
How to prepare your pet for bonfire night
To prepare your pet for bonfire night, it’s best to start in the months leading up to the night. There are many ways you can help them to feel calm when fireworks are going off:
- Encourage your pet to get used to loud noises. By playing noises that resemble fireworks inside your home, you can help your pet to become more accustomed to the different sounds. There are many options available online such as CDs and downloads.
- Build your pet a den. Help your dog or cat feel safe and guarded against fireworks by creating a safe space that only they can access. Set up a den in the weeks prior to bonfire night and encourage your pet to use it so they feel familiar with the environment.
- Create a calming environment. Calming home diffusers for cats and dogs are available to use as plug in’s to help keep pets who have anxiety feel calm. The plugin works by releasing a synthetic pheromone, similar to what our cats and dogs release to recreate a ‘happy’ scent, to comfort them. The scent helps cats and dogs to adapt to new surroundings and experiences. Adaptil and Feliway information and products are available in all Animal Trust surgeries.
- Act normal and stay calm. Dogs and cats are aware of the energy given off by their owners and if you seem stressed or anxious, they will feed on your emotions. Leading up to firework season, keep your pet’s routine as normal as possible and try to be with them to provide reassurance.
- Check your pet’s microchip details: During stressful and new situations, pets can become distressed and may try to flee and leave the house if they are able to escape, for example, if someone opens the front or back door. Firework season is a good time to check that your pet is wearing a collar with an up-to-date ID tag and that all of their microchip details are fully up-to-date.
Signs your pet is scared of fireworks
Along with following the above steps to prepare your pet for fireworks night, be aware of the signs of stress in dogs and cats so you can adapt your environment and care for your pet on the night.
Signs of stress in dogs:
- Unusual behaviour i.e. barking excessively or chewing the furniture
- Panting, pacing and yawning excessively
- Tensing their body/face or shaking
- Urinating indoors as they are too scared to go outside
Signs of stress in cats:
- Losing their appetite
- Unusual behaviour i.e. no longer using their litter tray
- Grooming themselves excessively
- Avoiding direct contact with people
How to keep your pet calm during fireworks
When bonfire night arrives, it’s best to be as prepared as possible. Spend some time researching when local firework displays are taking place and chat with your neighbours to check if they will be holding their own so you know exactly what to expect.
Once the fireworks have begun there are a range of things you can do to help keep your pet calm:
- Keep your pet indoors. Dogs can easily become scared of fireworks so making plans to walk them earlier in the day when fireworks are less likely to be set off will help to ease your pet’s anxiety. If your cat generally likes to be outdoors, create a safe space for inside the home to help reassure them.
- Comfort your pet. Avoid leaving your pet alone during fireworks – you should stay at home to comfort and reassure them as much as possible. It’s OK to stroke or cuddle them if they seem calm enough, but still, allow them to go where they would like. i.e. dogs may feel safer inside their den or behind a sofa and cats generally feel safer when high up, on top of a cupboard for example.
- Feed them earlier. If your pet usually eats early evening, think about feeding them slightly earlier before fireworks begin. If they do seem distressed, they may lose their appetite. Anxious dogs also pant more so it’s just as important to keep their water bowl full so they can stay hydrated.
- Play background noise. Having the television or radio on inside your home will help to drown out any loud bangs or noises. Keeping all the windows, doors and curtains closed will also help to drown out the noise.
- Provide rewards. When your pet is acting calm, reward them with praise, playing or a tasty treat. If they do bark, meow or whine more than usual, they may be distressed so whatever you do, don’t punish them for this behaviour. Do not shout, remain calm, and provide them with comfort.
- Be aware of changes in your pet’s behaviour. Any significant changes in your pet’s behaviour can be a signal of concern. If they begin to shake uncontrollably, bite or cause unusual distribution, seek advice from an emergency vet.
If you are considering giving your pet calming medications, seek advice from a qualified animal behaviourist and/or your local Animal Trust vet.
At any time if you notice a stress signal in your pet, you notice that their fear of fireworks is getting worse, or they are showing signs of unusual behaviour; contact your local Animal Trust surgery for a consultation, free of charge.