Summer tans are fading, the nights are drawing in, and you never know whether to bring a coat out or not. Yes, autumn is here, and it’s the season of celebration! And with celebration often comes fireworks. Seemingly harmless fun, firework season can actually be very distressing for our furry friends. The loud noise and bright lights can cause a lot of stress in our pets, causing changes in behaviour, self-trauma, and even disease. But what can we do? You won’t be very popular if you try to stop fireworks altogether; so looking after your pets around firework season is more about the preparation before and care during. Here are some of our top tips for keeping your pets stress to a minimum.
As with all things pet-related, it is never a good idea to make sudden changes. Preparing for fireworks is no exception, so we recommend starting to implement all the following tips gradually - this will reduce any stress caused by changes, and hopefully help make your pets more prepared for firework season.
First of all, any pets that live outdoors all the time, such as rabbits, should be brought inside. Preparing a cage with a nice nest in a quiet corner of the house is best for small rodents or other caged pets. For cats and dogs, bedding in a quiet secluded area is perfect for your pet to hide in if they are frightened. Cats often like to climb up high, so consider placing a nest on a tall surface. Some dogs may prefer to be alone, but others need the comfort of their best friends when they are scared; consider your own dog and where they will prefer to be during a firework display. Introduce these nests early so your pets know exactly where to go when the time comes.
On the night, it is important that all pets stay indoors, but if the worst should happen and they get outside, some pets may be too scared to come home. To make sure they can be found again, ensure all your pets are microchipped (and the details up to date) well before firework season.
One final piece of advice you should start doing now is to walk your dog earlier in the evening - though you can predict the big firework displays, people often have their own mini-displays in their gardens which can make dogs out on walks quite frightened. As firework season gets closer, try and avoid going out when it is dark enough for firework displays to take place.
On the Night
So the night has come, and there’s a big firework display later on. You may be wanting to go see it yourself, which is perfectly fine. However, you might want to consider your pets before you go. Unfortunately, even with all the preparation in the world, many pets will always be somewhat stressed by fireworks. It will therefore be down to you to decide whether your pets will manage alone, or if they would be more comforted by you staying home. If you do have to go out during a display, consider a house-sitter, or even taking your pets to a kennel or cattery far away from noises.
As mentioned earlier, it is very important to stop your pets getting outside during firework displays, where the noise and light is loudest, and there are the dangers of bonfires and the fireworks themselves. Make sure all doors, windows and cat/dogflaps are well secured.
During the display, it might be a good idea to have some recognisable noise in the house, to help drown out the sounds of fireworks, such as TV or music. However, your pet will probably show signs of stress and anxiety regardless, and their behaviour may change: they may hide or run around; some can become nervous or aggressive; they may even have an ‘accident’ on the floor. It is important not to get angry and shout, as this can make their stress worse. Stay calm and reassure your pet that everything is okay - dogs will likely appreciate this; cats may prefer to be alone and stay in their nests. Be wary if your pet is showing signs they want to be alone, as a stressed pet can lash out. Talk quietly and soothingly, and do what you can to keep their stress as low as possible until the firework display ends.
Managing Long-Term Stress
We hope that if you take some of the advice above, firework nights will be manageable for your pets, even if they are still unpleasant. The vast majority will endure through the night, but will be back to themselves by morning. However, a few nervous pets can show signs of stress long term. For these, there are other solutions, which should be considered before and after firework season.
One solution to consider may be acclimatisation therapy - this is where a pet is made to listen to increasingly loud sounds, without any negative consequences. The idea is that they learn that loud noises aren’t scary, so when fireworks go off for real, they will not be scared. It is not as simple as it may sound though, so don’t attempt to perform this without discussing it with your vet first.
There are also medications and/or natural supplements that can help soothe nervous pets - many pet shops sell plug in pheromones which are designed for relaxation and may be worth trying around firework season. For chronically nervous pets, there are a number of options available from vets that can help reduce anxiety. Again, discuss these with your vet if you are concerned for your pet.
Finally, pet behavioural therapists and psychologists are becoming a lot more common nowadays, and many work with nervous or anxious patients to try and stop them stressing. Many work through veterinary practices, so you might want to enquire at your next visit.
As fun as firework season is for us, pets can struggle. We sadly have no foolproof solution, but the advice above will go a long way to reducing your pet’s stress levels over the season. Start thinking about preparation now, as the season draws closer. Even a few simple changes can make all the difference and keep your pets much more comfy when the loud noises start.