The firework season is upon us and many animals are anxious and fearful of the loud bangs and flashes produced by fireworks. This results in stressful evenings for pets and owners alike.
Signs that your pet might be afraid and upset include:
- Clinging to owners
- Cowering and hiding
- Trying to run away
- Refusal to eat
- Going to the toilet indoors
- Destructive behaviour ( chewing furniture etc)
To help your pet cope with this time of year, here are some helpful steps you can take at home. It's important to be prepared, so now is the time to act, before the fireworks start.
Provide your dog with a safe retreat or den. Many people will create a den by using a dog crate covered on three sides with a blanket, but a space under a piece of furniture could do the job equally well. Provide a cosy bed or blankets in which they can hide and feel secure. Allow them freedom to access and leave the den at all times and provide positive experiences whilst they are using it, like a favourite toy or treat and give lots of praise. Leave a water bowl nearby so that your dog can easily get a drink. Prepare this area in advance to allow your pet time to get used to using it.
Cats tend to find their own safe haven such as under a bed, behind a sofa or up high on top of a wardrobe. You might like to provide a cardboard box on its side with a blanket inside or an igloo bed. It can be placed in your cats preferred hiding place, but don't force them to use it, they will choose to do what makes them feel most comfortable. Provide a litter tray that they can easily access.
There are some excellent natural calming products available to help manage stress in dogs and cats. FeliwayⓇ for cats and AdaptilⓇ for dogs are some of the best known – they mimic the comforting pheromones, which are naturally produced by the animals. They are available as plug-in diffusers or sprays.
Pet Remedy is a blend of essential oils that can help to calm anxious and stressed animals. It is available in a diffuser or spray format and starts to help immediately.
ZylkeneⓇ is a calming supplement that contains a natural ingredient derived from a protein in milk called casein that has clinically proven calming properties to help relax dogs and cats. It is available as either a capsule that can be sprinkled on their food or a tasty chew.
Nutracalm is a natural calming supplement available for both dogs and cats. It is fast acting providing relief from anxiety and stress. The capsules can be opened and sprinkled onto food or given whole by mouth.
Thunder shirts for dogs are calming vests that apply a gentle pressure to the dog's torso that can relax them. It is important to introduce your dog slowly to wearing one when they are in a calm and relaxed state to get them used to it. Ensure you read the product information and instructions before using one.
These products can help with many stressful events - do speak to your vet or nurse!
There are drugs that can be prescribed for very anxious pets. For dogs that get particularly worried by fireworks, a product is available to help them with noise phobias. It provides a calming effect without sedating them. It is a gel that is applied to the gums, so it can be administered at home. Your dog should be able to function normally, and of course, be less concerned about the noises.
Your pet will require a health check with a vet before any medication can be prescribed so please arrange to see a vet well in advance.
Tips for on the night(s)
- Take your dog for a walk early in the evening before the fireworks start.
- Ensure your pet is safely inside and secure doors, windows and cat flaps. Cats will need a litter tray.
- Is your pet micro-chipped in case they do escape and are your details up-to-date?
- Try not to leave your pet alone when fireworks are going off. Pets may hurt themselves or cause damage if they are not supervised. Having you there provides reassurance and comfort.
- Shut curtains, keep lights on and switch on the radio or TV to help muffle out the sounds of the fireworks.
- Provide distraction in the form of toys, games, chews or favourite treats.
- A little calm reassurance from you, should they seek it, will go along way. It's ok to acknowledge that your pet is anxious but continue to remain relaxed yourself and carry on normally. Some pets will seek out comfort from you, it is ok to soothe them but don't over fuss. Others will prefer to hide, that's likely all the comfort that they need - they have found their safe haven.
- Act normally and try to stick to your normal routine. Ignore the fireworks.
- Don’t get cross or punish your pet, regardless of their behaviour, as it will only make them more distressed.
- Should your dog need to go into the garden to the toilet, keep them close to you on a lead in case of sudden bangs.
- Cats prefer to be left to cope on their own - let them find a hiding place and leave them undisturbed.
Tips for outdoor rabbits and guinea pigs
• If the hutch is attached to a run, make sure that your pet is back in their hutch before it gets dark and close off access to the run.
• Provide plenty of extra hay in which they can burrow and hide. A cardboard box ,with a hole cut in the side for access and filled with hay, makes a good hiding place.
• Turn the hutch to face a wall or fence to help block out the flashes, or cover the hutch. Do however ensure that there is enough ventilation.
• If you can, move the hutch indoors to a cool part of the house or into a shed for example.
• You could always bring them inside for a cuddle (if they are used to this) or pop them in a pet carrier indoors in a cool room with plenty of hay and a bowl of drinking water during the worst period of the fireworks.
Having a firework party?
Inform your neighbours so that they can be prepared.
Before lighting a bonfire carefully check the log pile for wildlife. Light the bonfire from the corner rather than the centre so that if wildlife are left inside they have an escape route.
Other than changes to the home environment and medication, you can try behaviour modification to ease your pets fear. This is more of a long-term management option which can be very effective. A process called ‘de-sensitisation’ teaches your pet not to react to the fear stimulus and then eventually to associate it with something positive. Ask your vet about the sound therapy and for further advice on behaviour modification.
Disclaimer: The contents of the Arden House Animal Hospital website are for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your Veterinary Surgeon with any questions you may have regarding your animal’s medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.