The leaves are changing colour, the shorts have been put away, and the garden furniture has been blown over again; it’s definitely autumn! Autumn is a time of celebration, with Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night just a few weeks away, and Christmas just around the corner after that. It’s also a time where you’ll hear a lot more bangs, and see flashes in the sky at night, because it’s firework season! Firework displays are wonderful to watch, and we always feel in awe when they go off. However, back at home, your dogs, cats and other pets may not be having such fun. The sudden loud noises can cause fear, stress and related health problems, which can be hard to manage. You may not be considered the best neighbour if you try and stop the displays, so what can you do to help reduce firework fear in your pets?
There doesn’t seem to be a particular day when firework season starts, so it is important to prepare for it early. Well before dark, ensure your pets are brought indoors. Small furries, like rabbits, can be taken inside to a dark part of the house, with a blanket to cover their cage – do this regularly well before the season, so they are used to the change. Also consider adding more bedding material, so they have something to nest in. Dogs and cats should be brought inside too, and the doors, windows and cat/dog-flaps sealed. Cats and some dogs may appreciate a nest or bed made up for them. Again, place this in a quiet part of the house, away from noise. Hopefully they will not, but should your pet run away, you will feel more at ease knowing they have been microchipped, so make sure you do this before the season begins. You may want to avoid walking your dogs in the evening, when fireworks may begin, as they can become even more scared away from home; if possible, walk them earlier, well before nightfall.
On the Night:
So the house is prepared, and your pets are indoors. All you can do now is wait for them to begin. When the display starts, you might want to try and drown out the sound with some more familiar, regular noise, such as TV or music – keep it low though, to calm your pet’s nerves. Cats will generally want to run away and hide, so let them find their safe place. Some dogs will too, but many just need some comfort from their best friend – stay with them as long as you can. You might even want to let them sleep in your bedroom if it helps.
During the display, your pet’s behaviour may change. They may become more vocal, or aggressive, or destructive, or even have some toileting problems. If this occurs, try to stay calm and not get angry with them, as it will make the problem worse – they do not understand what is going on, and they are just reacting out of fear. Stay calm, talk quietly and try and soothe them.
Long Term Care:
Using these tips, the majority of pets may still not have a great firework night, but will hopefully cope much better with your help. However, for some animals, stress can continue beyond the night, and they may become chronically stressed. For these, there is some advice too. Chronically stressed cats and dogs can be calmed using plug-in de-stressing products – these use pheromones to naturally soothe your pet.
You may consider training your animals to get used to the loud noises, in which case there are CDs designed to help your pet acclimatise to loud noises; these are great for young puppies and kittens coming up on their first firework season. Over weeks, gradually play the CD louder and louder so they do not react to the noise. This will not be for every pet, so you may want to talk to one of our vets about this. We may also be able to prescribe drugs to help anxious pets, though other treatment will usually be suggested first. Drugs should be a last resort.
Finally, there are pet behavioural therapists who work with your pet to try and reduce their anxiety, increase confidence, and improve behaviour. These treatments are best for chronically anxious and fearful pets – having a few days of changed behaviour after bonfire night is normal. If needed, though, we can recommend a suitable therapist for your pet.
The last months of the year are always full of joy and celebration, as we try and forget the cold and rain, and spend time together. Make sure you do not forget the rest of your furry family, who are at home and certainly not enjoying the cracks and bangs of fireworks. While you won’t be able to fully stop firework fear, follow our tips and you will do a lot to make sure your pet is as comfortable as can be on firework night. Have a happy autumn!