Bonfire’s night, New Year’s Eve, religious celebrations and many other occasions bring out firework displays – whether it’s a small demonstration in the back garden or a large organised event, our furry and feathered friends can find it a bit overwhelming. Here are our top tips to keep the household pets calm during firework displays.
Create a den
All animals appreciate having a safe haven in which they can hide during times of stress or anxiety, so find your furry friend’s favourite spot and create a comfy hideaway where they can retreat when it all just becomes too much. It doesn’t matter whether the preferred place is under a table or bed, in a cupboard or just in a quiet corner, but it’s better if they are not shut out from the room you’re in, or too near a window. Consider a crate if you don’t already have one, a padded box or a house-style bed with walls and a roof to cocoon your pet. Make sure the den is padded with cushions, and covered with a heavy blanket to act as soundproofing as well as creating a cosy spot. You can also put a used T-shirt which smells of you in your pet’s safe haven, so it has a familiar comforting smell. Chewing is a great stress reliever, so it would be a good idea to give your dog a bone or chew to occupy and distract him from the noise.
Try an anxiety wrap
An anxiety wrap is a specially designed coat for dogs and cats which is based on the principle of swaddling a baby – it wraps tight around the neck and chest to relieve anxiety and stress. It is often used to help settle dogs overnight or when their owners are out for periods of time, but is particularly helpful during firework season. We also stock cuddly toys with a beating heart which are designed to comfort puppies leaving their mum for the first time, but they can also benefit scared animals of any age.
Herbal products can help alleviate nervous symptoms in all animals and enable them to relax in a stressful situation. We stock a number of options available: Dorwest’s Scullcap and Valerian tablets can be administered with food, or the Organic Valerian Compound liquid can either be given orally or dropped onto the bedding; Pet Remedy also have a plug in diffuser which releases natural pheromones to calm most pets.
For dogs, one of the best things to do is to normalise big noises so that your hound is not fazed by any unexpected or loud sounds, such as emergency sirens, fireworks, a doorbell or a car backfiring. You can buy CDs or download tracks of a range of noises which you play quietly at first, slowly increasing the volume over time, so that it becomes mundane instead of threatening. For maximum disinterest, distract your pet while you play the sounds with a game of ball or by offering treats. If you haven’t yet managed to normalise noises, it’s a good idea to drown out the big bangs with a radio or TV on in the background.
Be led by your pet
If your pet comes to you for reassurance, don’t worry about cuddling her; it won’t reinforce the need to be scared and can help relieve her anxiety. However you shouldn’t force your pet into an embrace if she doesn’t want it – pets will be defensive at times of stress, and cats in particular are likely to lash out if they are constrained. Instead, let your furry friend deal with the problem in their own way, whether that’s seeking comfort from you, sitting on top of the wardrobe, under your bed or behind the couch – let your pet be wherever they feel most comfortable and just continue as normal. Don’t chastise them if they have an accident in the house, just clean it up without fuss.
Being outside will be noisier and scarier for any animal, so if you know there will be a firework display nearby, keep your dog and cat indoors and bring any cages or hutches inside if at all possible. If your small mammals can’t come inside, consider moving them to a shed or garage or, failing that, place a heavy blanket over the cage, to help drown out the noise and make them feel more secure, and provide them with lots of bedding for burying themselves.
- Make sure your dog and cat are microchipped and wear an identity tag, so that if they do escape in fear, you can be easily reunited with them.
- Walk your dog before the bangs begin so that he is tired and more likely to ignore the disturbance. Play some mental games at dusk so that he is really exhausted before the noise starts.
- Make sure that dogs have been out for a toilet break before bringing them in for the night. It is advisable to do this on a lead just in case a display starts early – this is not the time to find out your dog can clear a six foot fence.
- Provide your dog with a bone, tendon or chew toy, as the chewing action helps to release endorphins and help keep your hound calm.
- Keep windows, doors and cat flaps closed, draw the curtains to block out the flashes, and turn on a radio or TV to disguise the noise.
- Provide a litter tray for cats during firework season, even if they don’t normally have one, so that they can eliminate if necessary without having to go outside.
- Consider asking a friend, neighbour or pet-sitter to take your place at home if you are going out to a large display yourself.
- Make sure all pets have access to fresh water as the fight-or-flight syndrome of anxiety will make them pant more and be thirsty.
- If you are lighting your own bonfire, check underneath for any hedgehogs before you start, and keep it away from hedgerows and other pets.
- Make sure you check your back garden thoroughly the next day, to pick up any errant sparklers or firecrackers, before letting your pets back outside.
Signs of stress
Your pet may display some signs of stress even when the fireworks have stopped. If any of the following symptoms continue a week or two after the last display, see a behaviourist or your vet to help your pet recover: excessive barking or meowing, inappropriate soiling, chewing or scratching, whimpering or shaking, refusal to eat, being overly clingy, or pacing.
Written by: Lucy Ellis