10 top tips for fending off firework frights
Pets can have a real fear of fireworks – all those sudden, unpredictable flashes and bangs are very frightening for our furry friends – so it’s up to us to help our dogs and cats keep calm and ensure our small pets feel safe.
1. Lockdown before dark
Take your dog on a good walk earlier in the day while it’s still light and give them the opportunity to go outside to toilet before any firework noises start and bring your cat in before dark. Shut all the windows, close the curtains and secure all doors, windows and cat flaps. Cats can squeeze into surprisingly tight spots, so block off any unsuitable areas they may go into.
Many pets find fireworks scary. It's estimated that 45% of dogs in the UK show signs of fear when they hear fireworks.
2. Create a doggy den
Create a safe hiding place. For dogs, 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. Tempt them in by placing some tasty titbits in there, along with a long-lasting chew treat – many dogs find chewing very soothing. Add an old jumper that smell like you so they associate their den with good things.
How to calm a dog who’s frightened: 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. It’s OK to be affectionate and soothe them.
Source: Dogs Trust
3. Create cat safe spaces
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 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.
How to manage a scared cat: Remember not to reinforce fearful behaviour by overly comforting a cat that looks anxious. Keep calm yourself and ensure your cat has a safe space.
Source: Cats Protection
4. Turn up the volume
Music can help dull the sound of the whizzes and bangs outside, so turn up the volume of your TV or radio. Add 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). You could even try playing some anti-anxiety calming music for dogs – there’s a whole selection of chilled out tunes for canines on YouTube to choose from.
5. Collar and chip check
Just in case your pet is scared by a random firework and runs off, make sure their microchip is up to date and they have an engraved tag on their collar (make sure it’s an easy-release collar for cats) so they can be quickly identified and returned to you.
6. A little pressure goes a long way
Pressure wraps have a calming effect on some dogs. The idea was developed in the USA by Phil Blizzard for his dog Dosi, who was terrified by thunderstorms and fireworks. After a friend recommended trying a snug wrap – rather like swaddling a baby – Phil wrapped his pet in an old t-shirt secured with packing tape to create mild pressure. Dosi calmed almost immediately, which led to the development of the ThunderShirt.
7. Let your pets lead the way
Try distracting your dog by playing some indoor games – but don’t force them if they're reluctant to join in. It’s best to let your dog decide what they want to do – play or hide away. 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.
8. Help small pets snuggle down
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, or into a shed or empty garage. If this isn’t possible, cover their accommodation with blankets to help muffle the sound, but still enabling them to look out. Providing extra hay for them to burrow into and munch on will also help them feel more secure.
How keep small pets calm: 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. 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.
Source: Wood Green
9. Plug in some feelgood pheromones
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). ADAPTIL works by sending ‘comforting messages’ to help dogs feel calm and relaxed in stressful situations. For cats, there’s the FELIWAY diffuser. This mimics feel-good pheromones, helping your cat to feel calmer. Pet Remedy is a natural de-stress and calming product, which can help dogs, cats, rabbits and other small pets.
10. Get a little extra help from your vet
Your vet will be able to provide you with advice about suitable treatment to help with noise phobias. These may include:
SILEO – A new 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.
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Sources: rspca.org.uk, dogstrust.org.uk, woodgreen.org.uk, cats.org.uk, battersea.org.uk