8 ways to make firework season less scary for your pets
Guy Fawkes has a lot to answer for. All those unpredictable flashes and bangs in early November are extremely frightening for our furry friends. Find out how you can dial down the fear for your pets.
While many humans love to commemorate the fifth of November when, back in 1605, Guy Fawkes and his conspirators cooked up an (unsuccessful) plan to blow up Parliament's House of Lords, the opposite is true for animals. Fireworks displays featuring exploding rockets, sizzling Catherine wheels and crackling Roman candles can be absolutely terrifying for our pets.
Veterinary charity PDSA states: “Our pets' senses are much more sensitive than ours, so loud bangs, high-pitched sounds, unexpected flashes and the unfamiliar smells of fireworks can be scary for our four-pawed friends. Luckily, with the right care, you can keep your pet calm and help them cope.”
DID YOU KNOW?
According to PDSA’a latest Animal Wellbeing Report 41% of dog owners (4.1 million dogs), 30% of cat owners (3.3 million cats) and 16% of rabbit owners (160,000 rabbits) stated that their pet was afraid of fireworks. Firework phobia is well recognised in dogs but may be under recognised by owners in cats and rabbits, due to those species not showing overt signs of fear, particularly if their coping mechanism is to hide away. Therefore, the proportion of cats and rabbits with fear of fireworks is likely to be much higher than PDSA’s findings suggest.
Switch up your routine
- Make sure your dog gets a really good walk during daylight hours and give them the opportunity to go outside to toilet before any firework noises start.
- Call your cat in with the lure of an early dinner so they’re safely indoors before it gets dark to avoid them getting spooked by the first whizzes and bangs.
- Ensure that someone is home before dark. Always keep your pets and company and never leave them home alone on fireworks night.
Get the gang together
- Rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets and small indoor pets can be extremely frightened by bangs and flashes too. For those that usually live outside, try and move their hutch or enclosure somewhere more sheltered, such as into a quiet room of the house where you can keep a close eye on them, or into a shed or empty garage.
- If it’s really not possible to move outdoor pets, cover their accommodation with blankets or a duvet to block out the sight of the fireworks and deaden the sound of the bangs, but make sure there’s enough ventilation. Providing lots of extra hay for them to burrow into and munch on will also help them feel more secure
- Companionship is the biggest protector against fear for most small animals. A neutered pair of rabbits or a small group of same sex guinea pigs are far more likely to remain in a relaxed state as their companions offer security and comfort.
Create safe havens
- Create a safe hiding place for your dog. This could be somewhere that they like to go normally such as behind the sofa or under the kitchen table – just add a soft blanket for them to lie on and some chew toys – or create a cosy doggy den by draping duvets and blankets over chairs to create a snug space, Tempt them in by placing a trail of tasty kibbles, along with a long-lasting chew treat – many dogs find chewing very soothing. Add an old jumper that smells of you, so they associate their den with good things.
- For cats, provide plenty of different hiding places and a litter tray – one for each cat if you have more than one. Cats normally hide in a specific place, so make sure they have access, and use food treats and toys to encourage them to use the space. Try a box lined with blankets with the opening slightly covered. Cats feel safer higher up, so placing the box on a top shelf or cupboard will help – but make sure it’s secure and won’t fall down.
- Along with plenty of hiding places and extra hay and soft bedding , provide your small furries with their favourite healthy treats such as yummy Pumpkin Pieces in ways that will stimulate them to forage and focus. This could include hay kebabs, paper rummage bags, stuffed toilet rolls, hay bars or activity treat boards.
Ensure any escape routes are secured
- As it starts to get dark, draw the curtains, close all external doors, windows and cat-flaps to prevent spooked cats, ferrets or house bunnies from making an escape.
- “Remember, cats are clever creatures,” advises Cats Protection. “Keep all cat flaps, windows and doors closed to ensure they don’t escape or hear the fireworks from outside. Cats can also squeeze into tight spaces, especially when they’re feeling frightened – you might want to make sure that any unsuitable areas are blocked off to keep them safe.”
- However, don’t shut cats or dogs into a confined area as they could injure themselves trying to escape. Allow access to all safe areas of the house.
Turn up the volume
- Start your firework bang-masking plan with some familiar ‘white noise’ by putting the washing machine on or doing the vacuuming (as long as your pet doesn’t mind these sort of noises).
- Then, add some music, which can really help dull the sound of the whizzes and bangs outside. You could increase the volume during the noisiest parts of the night.
- There are even some specially designed playlists that you can download to distract your pets, such as these created by PDSA: Rock dogs – A selection of rocking tracks to help mask the sounds of fireworks for your pets. Blues and pop pooches – A mix of classic and modern blues and pop to help your pets through fireworks evening. Background noises for pets – A selection of white and pink noise, plus other natural and background sounds to help mask fireworks sounds for your pets. Set your player to fade in and out, or simply find a track that your pet likes and play on a loop.
Invest in some feelgood pheromones
Pheromone plug-ins, collars and sprays mimic feel-good natural pheromones, sending ‘comforting messages’ to help pet animals feel calm and relaxed in stressful situations.
- For dogs, try ADAPTIL – a pheromone which you can’t smell that comes in a plug-in diffuser, spray, collar or in tablet form (which you give two hours before a firework event).
- For cats FELIWAY can create a calming effect on anxious felines. Begin using it a couple of weeks before fireworks season and place it in the room where your cat spends most of their time.
- Pet Remedy, a clinically proven blend of valerian and vetiver, sweet basil and clary sage essential oils, is suitable for dogs, cats and small pets and is available as a calming spray, calming wipes, plug diffuser and battery-operated atomiser.
Follow your pet’s lead
- You could try distracting your pets by playing some indoor games – but don’t force them if they're reluctant to join in. It’s best to let your pets decide what they want to do – play or hide away.
- In the past, advice has sometimes been to ignore dogs and not give them a fuss if they are scared. But if you suddenly withdraw reassurance when they are terrified by noises it is likely to cause them to be very distressed. Canine behaviourists such as Dogs Trust advise that It’s OK to be affectionate and soothe them.
- While you might be tempted to keep your cat in one room, this can make your cat feel more stressed. Keep access to all safe areas of the house and they’ll be content in exploring their surroundings. If your cat is hiding away, let them be and don’t try to tempt them out or pick them up as this may make them more anxious.
- For small pets, it’s best to avoid handling them too much as they’re probably happier tunnelling into their hay and bedding with some healthy treats to munch on if they want to.
Ask your vet if you need extra help
if your pet has a serious and extreme fear of fireworks, seek expert veterinary help well in advance as medication can be prescribed for very anxious pets. Your vet will be able to provide you with advice about suitable treatment to help with noise phobias. These may include:
- SILEO – A specialised treatment for noise aversion in dogs (exhibited by pacing, lip licking, shaking and panting) associated with fear and anxiety. It’s fast-acting (it takes about 30 minutes to an hour for SILEO to take full effect, and typically lasts two to three hours) and calms without sedating. SILEO has to be administered in a very specific way by depositing gel inside your dog’s cheek.
- Zylkene – This is a natural supplement that some pet owners find helps their dogs and cats to feel calm. This needs to be administered at least one or two days prior to a stressful event – for some dogs, five days prior is recommended.
NEED EXTRA ADVICE? Download PDSA’s FREE Firework Guide, which will help you make sure you've got everything covered for your pet.
CARE MORE Find lots of useful advice on caring for your pets from Burgess, the pet experts. Training, nutrition, grooming and general care, it's all here >>
If you found this interesting, you may also like:
OFF WITH A BANG? If thunderstorms result in your dog trembling in terror behind the sofa, you’ll know just how distressing noise phobias can be. What can you do to help them overcome their fears?
SHOW YOUR PETS THE LOVE Make a pledge to your dog, cat, rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, hamster, degus, gerbils, rats or mice that you’re going to be the best pet owner you can possibly be.
BIG IDEAS FOR SMALL PETS Enriching the lives of our small animals will help them lead their best pet lives. We’ve lots of ideas for things you can introduce to keep things interesting for small furries
KEEPING YOUR CAT SAFE IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS Cats love to spend time outdoors and allowing them access to the outside world provides them with valuable exercise opportunities and mental stimulation. But what can you do to help keep them out of harm’s way?
KEEP CALM AND CALL THE VET If you have pets, it’s always best to be prepared. Regular checks will help you spot if something’s not right. Plus, would you know what to do in an emergency?
BECOME A DOG COMMUNICATION EXPERT Spending more time with your canine chum? It’s the perfect opportunity to learn more about what they’re trying to tell you
HOW TO TELL IF YOU HAVE A HAPPY PET Wheek-wheeking, bruxing, dooking, chirping, binkying, popcorning – there are all sorts of ways our pets tell us they’re feeling good, once you know what to look for...
PEEK-A-BOO – HELLO KITTY, I SEE YOU! Even the most confident of cats need some me-time to feel safe and secure and will take themselves off somewhere quiet and private to recharge. That’s why all cats deserve a cosy hideaway to withdraw from the world when they need to.
COSY TOES AND SNUGGLY NOSES As the days get shorter and there’s a distinct chill in the air, as well as digging out our woolly socks, bobble hats and fluffy fleeces, it’s time to turn our attention to what our pet friends need to stay healthy and happy during the winter.