Spine-chilling celebrations can be fun for us humans, but our feline friends can find spooky season all rather stressful. What can we do to help them out?
From late October into early November, celebrations for Halloween and Bonfire Night get well underway.
And, while us humans revel in carving out terrifying grins in pumpkins, draping creepy fake cobwebs around our homes, and donning scary costumes, it’s highly likely that our beloved pet cats don’t feel the same way.
When your feline friend turns into a witch’s cat
You know exactly when your favourite feline is feeling frightened – ears are pulled back flat against their head, pupils dilate, their back arches and their fur stands on end. They may also yowl, growl, hiss and spit, giving a perfect impersonation of a witch’s cat.
This characteristic pose may be seasonally on point, but what it reveals is a spooked cat that needs understanding and support from their human – particularly if there’s a chance of fireworks going off nearby.
Feline welfare charity International Cat Care advises: “For us, fireworks are bright, noisy and enjoyable to watch, but for a cat they may be a new experience (and therefore make the cat wary), loud and unpredictable, and can be very frightening. Frightened cats may be startled, run away and become lost, or run across roads and be involved in accidents. Distressed cats can develop behavioural issues such as house-soiling or excessive grooming.”
How to encourage your cat to stay in
At this time of year, getting your cat safely tucked up indoors before dark is a top priority. And, while this may not be much of a problem if you have a feline homebody, it’s a little trickier if you have a cat who enjoys spending lots of time outside. Yet, feline behavioural experts agree that it’s well worth the effort.
Cats Protection says: “If you know that your cat becomes distressed at the loud noises and lights of Bonfire Night and other festivities, the best thing to do is to keep your cat inside after dark. Giving them their own ‘cat curfew’ means they’re less likely to stumble across a noisy fireworks display – they’ll soon get used to curling up on the sofa in the evening.”
International Cat Care adds: “Some cats are not used being restricted indoors or using an indoor litter tray. If this is the case, practise getting your cat to come to you when called.”
The charity suggests taking this approach:
- When your cat is hungry, call their name and reward their approach with a tasty treat (you can do this first when the cat is indoors). If your cat is not very food motivated, you can reward them coming to you with a game, such as with a wand toy.
- Once your cat has mastered coming to you when called within the home, you can extend this to the outdoors.
- Always be ready to reward your cat with food or play, so that they learn that coming home from outdoors is rewarding. In this way, your cat will continue to be motivated to come to you.
How to dial down fireworks fear
Firework season can be extremely challenging for cats due to their super sensitive hearing. Cats hear all the things we do – but MUCH LOUDER. So, imagine the effect of crackling Roman candles, whistling Catherine wheels and screaming rockets on their delicate ears.
Along with a loathing for everything that makes a bang, cats also hate anything that disrupts their regular routines.
Cats Protection explains: “For cats, bonfire night is not only a noisy and unwelcome celebration – it is a highly unpredictable time. As creatures of habit, loud bangs and flashes of light take them by surprise, which makes them fearful.”
Thankfully, there are lots of practical things you can do to help your cat safely ride out the firework storm. Check out these tips from Cats Protection:
- Create a safe space for your cat – A cardboard box lined with blankets is perfect. Cats feel safer higher up – placing the box on a sturdy shelf is even better.
- Play music – Yes, really! Cats and loud noises don’t necessarily mix and keeping a radio or TV can help if your cat gets scared from the sudden sounds of fireworks.
- Use a pheromone plug-in – A plug-in diffuser, such as Feliway, can create a calming effect on anxious cats. Begin using it a couple of weeks before fireworks season and place it in the room where your cat spends most of their time.
- Stay calm – Instead of overly comforting an anxious cat, keep your cool – your cat is more likely to feel settled if you are.
How to guard against other Halloween and bonfire season hazards
With their curious natures, cats may be attracted to all sorts of spooky season items which can do them serious harm. International Cat Care highlights what you need to protect your feline friend from:
- Bonfires – If built sometime before burning, bonfires make good hiding places for small animals such as hedgehogs, and even a cat or kitten, so check them before lighting.
- Candles – Cats may be attracted to the flickering light of a candle which could result in burns to the paws or singed whiskers. The cat may even simply walk past and put their tail over the flame or knock it off a shelf, so be aware of these dangers. Using electric candles in pumpkins can minimise the risk.
- Sparklers – The light and hissing noise can be very frightening. Make sure any burnt sparklers are kept away from animals before being safely disposed of.
- Glow sticks – Often made into wands or necklaces for Halloween and Bonfire Night, glow sticks are tubes made of pliable soft plastic which contain a liquid which glows in the dark. The main component of this oily liquid is dibutyl phthalate. Even a small amount in a cat’s mouth will cause frothing and foaming. You cat may become hyperactive and show aggressive behaviour (the cat gets confused and upset by the horrible taste in its mouth). The liquid can also cause irritation to the skin and eyes. If any drops have fallen on the cat’s skin or coat wash it off with water, or the cat will ingest it again when they groom. Looking at the cat in the dark can help show up glowing areas that haven’t been washed off. If it goes in the cat’s eyes, wash out with lots of water. Seek veterinary advice if you are worried.
- Decorations – Inquisitive cats may investigate any spooky decorations you put up. As well as the risk of cats knocking them down, which may cause injury to themselves, in some cases cats may even eat them. String and string-like items are one of the most common types of foreign bodies that cats eat, according to vets, and can lead to serious problems such as causing the intestines to ‘bunch up’, requiring surgery. Always ensure decorations are placed well out of reach of your cat.
- Chocolate – This sweet treat for humans is toxic to most animals. Chocolate contains a compound called theobromine and, although a cat would have to eat a large amount for the dose to be lethal (around 560g milk chocolate and 140g dark chocolate), even a small amount can cause signs of poisoning, such as vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy, depression or hyperactivity. Keep chocolate goodies well away from your cat – remember that cats are really good at getting up high so shut them away somewhere they cannot access.
CARE MORE Get more advice on caring for your cat from Burgess, the pet experts. Training, nutrition, grooming and general care. It’s all here >>
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