Remember, remember the fifth of November…
For pet owners, it’s a date in the calendar that most of us would rather forget. Bonfire Night (and the surrounding days) are a stressful time if you have animals who find the unexpected bangs and whizzes simply terrifying. However, there are lots of things you can do to help your furry friends cope. We’ve checked out all the latest tips and advice from the UK’s leading animal charities so we can share them with you.
Around 2.2 million dogs could suffer this Bonfire Night, according to findings from the PDSA's Animal Wellbeing (PAW) report, which discovered that 22% of UK dog owners have a four-legged friend who is afraid of fireworks.
PDSA Vet, Lynne James, says: “A pet’s response to fireworks can range from mild to very extreme. Many shake and tremble, freeze with fear and are unable to settle, soil in the house or destroy furniture. They can even cause themselves physical injury if they panic, try to escape or run away. It can be incredibly distressing to witness.”
Private displays could seriously affect our pets
Launching its #BangOutOfOrder campaign for 2021, a recent poll by the RSPCA revealed that 52% of UK adults in England and Wales will be holding private displays at home, with friends and family. “This spike in private displays (29% more than in 2019), could cause havoc for pets,” warns the charity. “With more and more public event cancellations and concerns around large gatherings, this year's fireworks celebrations could be a powder keg for animals and their owners. While the bright colours, flashing lights and snap, crackle and pops are entertaining for humans – these result in huge fear, distress and fatal injuries for all kinds of animals.”
The PDSA’s report also found three in five (61%) vets have seen an increase in the number of pets with phobias including fireworks in the last two years, despite there being lots of ways to ease their distress.
PDSA’s top tips for helping reduce pet stress
- Start preparing early. If you know your pet has previously struggled with loud noises or fireworks, it’s best to contact your vet for advice as soon as possible.
- Get your pet microchipped and make sure your details are up to date, so if they do panic and run away, you’re more likely to be reunited.
- Walk your dog earlier in the day and keep your cat at home before fireworks start.
Bring them indoors. Move rabbits and guinea pigs inside or cover their cage with blankets – especially if you know your neighbours are planning some fireworks.
Secure your home. Keep doors, windows, cat flaps and curtains closed and secure.
- Make a cosy den for your pet. This can be somewhere they feel safe and can hide if they want to.
- Soothing sounds. Play gentle music or ‘white noise’ to help to mask sounds.
Calming scents. Buy a plug-in pheromone diffuser which can help to keep pets relaxed.
- Stay calm. Keeping your tone, mood and behaviour as normal as possible will help to reassure them. If you get anxious or start acting differently, this can strengthen the perception that there is something to be afraid of.
- Provide comfort. If your pet usually seeks reassurance from you then comfort them as you normally would. This is a short-term fix though, so if your pet is very anxious it’s important to find more long-term solutions to help them cope with the help of your vet and an accredited behaviourist.
- Never punish your pet as this just adds to their anxiety and can make things worse. Lynne James adds: “Pets have extremely sensitive hearing, so what seems loud to us can be even worse for our pets. Plus, they don’t understand what’s causing the loud bangs and flashes, adding to their stress.”
Keeping canines calm
Dogs Trust advises: “Pop out for a long walk well before any fireworks could start. This will help your dog to be calm in the evening and avoid too many toilet breaks when things get loud. Feed them before it gets noisy. Once fireworks begin, your dog might be too stressed to eat. Settle your dog in before fireworks start. Being in safe and familiar surroundings can help your pooch cope with unexpected loud noises. Once fireworks start, let your dog decide if they want to play or hide away.”
As dogs are extremely good at picking up on how we’re feeling. If you stay calm, they'll be more likely to stay calm too. Dogs Trust says: “Have a snuggle on the sofa (if they’re into that), pop your favourite film on and relax. Don't leave them alone – your dog could panic without their best friend, so stick around for the evening to help them feel relaxed. Keeping your dog busy indoors can take their mind off the noise. You can play games with them or practise some reward-based training. But if they just want to hide away, that’s OK too. Don’t make them come out of their safe space if they don’t want to.”
There’s one piece of advice which is routinely handed out every year, particularly to dog owners, that’s now in dispute – it’s that humans should not make a fuss of a worried and anxious canine. Animal behaviour experts at Dogs Trust are challenging this >>
Create a safe hiding place
Build your pal a cosy den in a quiet spot. Being able to hide away may help them feel safer when they hear fireworks. Under a table or bed works perfectly. A doggy den is a great way to your dog feel safe and secure and are really easy to make. Check out Dogs Trust’s SUPER EASY DIY DOGGY DEN 'how to' tutorial video >>
Helping new puppies feel safe
Ali Taylor, Head of Canine Behaviour and Training at Battersea advises: “We know many people have new puppies now and this is their chance to prepare them with some simple changes in routine. Try playing audio recordings of fireworks at a very low volume whilst engaging in fun activities with your dog, such as a bit of training or toy play.”
Try Battersea’s tips for desensitising your dog to loud noises
- Buy or stream some related sound effects or noises, such as fireworks. Try Dogs Trust’s ‘Sounds Scary’ – a therapy pack aimed to teach your dog to be less afraid of loud noises at Sound Therapy 4 Pets. Do this training with your dog indoors, away from distractions.
- Get your dog settled in the room and play the sounds they are least scared of at the lowest possible volume. Gradually increase the volume, until you see the first signs that your dog is reacting to the noise. Once your dog starts to react, leave the sounds at that volume for a few minutes to let them get used to it.
- If your dog starts to become stressed by the noise, remain calm and stop immediately. Next time play the sounds at a lower volume.
- Play the sounds at this low level for five to 10 minutes, three to four times a day. Once your dog has stopped responding to the noise, you can turn the volume up slightly, until they begin to respond again. Again, if your dog shows any signs of stress, stop the sounds and start at a lower volume the next day.
- Keep playing the sounds in this way daily, over a period of weeks, until your dog no longer reacts to the sounds, even at a higher volume. Once your dog is used to these loud noises you can start to build a positive association to them.
- Start playing the sounds at a low volume and start to give your dog food or play with them and a toy. Once your dog has finished eating or playing, turn off the noises straight away. This way they will start to associate the sounds with enjoyable experiences.
- Do this a few times over the course of a few days until your dog starts to get excited when they hear the sounds. Once your dog has made this initial connection you can begin to increase the volume a little each time.
- If your dog is still stressed by loud noises after trying these steps, you should consult your vet for further advice.
Helping felines feel relaxed
Feline rehoming charity Cats Protection advises: “Cats have super sensitive hearing, meaning they hear things humans do but a lot louder. In fact, they have one of the widest ranges of hearing in mammals. It’s why your cat might notice an arrival at the door before you do or pick up on another cat’s presence in the neighbourhood. 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.”
How to tell if your cat is stressed by fireworks
Cats Protection says: “Even the most confident feline might struggle with the sounds of fireworks, and cats that are stressed may react in a number of different ways. Frightened cats might appear startled by noises, run away or hide in the house. You might notice that your cat acts out of the ordinary, either toileting in the house or excessively grooming themselves.” Other signs of cats stressed by fireworks include:
- Hiding or becoming withdrawn
- Eating or drinking less than usual
- Fearful body language
- Pacing, circling or restlessness
Try Cats Protection’s top tips to help your cat stay calm during fireworks season
- Keep your cat indoors after dark. It’ll reduce the risk of them being spooked.
- 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 on 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 its time.
- Stay calm. Instead of overly comforting an anxious cat, keep your cool – your cat is more likely to feel settled if you are.
The charity adds: “Remember, cats are clever creatures. 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.”
Providing a safe haven for small pets
“Rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, mice and ferrets are all easily frightened and should be treated with special care when fireworks are being let off,” states Blue Cross. “Hutches/cages and enclosures should, if possible, be brought into a quiet room indoors or into a garage or shed. If you can’t bring your pet’s hutch inside, turn their enclosure around so that it faces a wall or fence instead of the open garden. Cover any hutches with thick 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. Give your pets extra bedding to burrow into so they feel safe.
Rescue charity Wood Green has some useful advice on spotting fear in small animals and how to help them feel less scared:
- Stamp their back feet repeatedly, this can continue for several minutes and often occurs after unexpected noises or movements within the environment
- Hide in a corner, headfirst
- Have wide eyes or third eyelid across
- Breath rapidly
- Kick and bite when picked up
- A pair bonded pair of rabbits may have a fight in some cases
Frightened guinea pigs:
- Dart around, running at the walls
- Have wide eyes
- Stiffen their body
- Breathe rapidly
- Hide in a corner, headfirst
- Dig at the floor trying to cover themselves
- Release their scent glands
- Dart quickly under cover
- Shake their tail with body trembling
- Aggressively bite repeatedly in the same area when picked up
- Squeal when picked up
- Make high pitched alert squeaks, continuing for several minutes
- Shake their tail
- Stamp their feet for several minutes
- Puff up their coat and walk on ridged tip toes
- Hide in small spaces
- Launch an attack when your hand enters the accommodation
How to manage a frightened small animal
Small animals often find a large and sudden change of environment distressing. Wood Green recommends the following:
- Add extra hides and bedding to their accommodation
- Lock away outdoor pets in their night accommodation slightly earlier than normal to allow them to settle before the fireworks start
- Provide them with their favourite healthy treats in ways that will stimulate them to forage and focus. This could include hay kebabs, paper rummage bags, stuffed toilet rolls, feed balls and activity treat boards
- Avoid too much handling
- Companionship is the biggest protector against fear for most small animals (not all rodents). 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
You could also try Pet Remedy – a natural de-stress and calming blend of essential oils that help calm the nerves and which can help rabbits and other small pets.
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