Bangers and flash
Sarah Oliver - 21 October 2015
Firework Season is fast approaching and you may have heard the odd banger going off already. For some pet owners, this heralds a sense of dread and worry about the effects of all the noise on our nervous pets. So NOW is the time to prepare your pets and your home for the Bonfire weekend, with these top tips to keeping your pets happy and safe.
Create a hidey-hole
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To encourage your pet to use the den, put treats and toys in it to reward your pet or even feed them in there to create positive associations with it. During the fireworks, leave their food, water and litter tray nearby so that they don't have to move far to reach them.
Ensure your home is safe and secure by locking any cat or dog flaps and keeping windows and curtains closed to dampen the noise and light of any fireworks. Be extra-careful about closing external doors behind you. Play some music or put the TV on to distract your pets, just don't turn it up to mask the sound of the fireworks - remember your pets have sensitive hearing and the loud music or TV could scare them more than the fireworks! Make sure they have their favourite toys around for distraction too.
For your outdoor pets, if you can't bring them in the house or garage/outbuilding, cover the cage or hutch but leave a little space open for ventilation and so that they can still see out. Add a little extra bedding and straw so that your pet can burrow if they feel scared.
Safe as houses
Mind your (body) language
If you can, stay home with your pet and behave as normally as possible during the fireworks as this will help your pet feel less anxious - if you're relaxed, your pet is more likely to settle down. Try not to fuss over your pet if it is scared (it's hard, I know!) as this will only reward their anxiety and encourage this behaviour in the future. Try to ignore any fearful behaviour such as whining, panting or trembling. And definitely don't punish or shout at your pet - this will only reinforce their fear. Only reward non-fearful behaviour - with as much fuss as you like!
Seeking a natural high
Some people swear by pheromones to calm their pets, such as Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats. These can be used successfully before and during the firework season, especially if placed near your pet's hidey hole, and they are available as plug-in diffusers, sprays or collars.
Keep calm and carry on
Don't try to force your pet out of their hidey-hole, even if the fireworks have ended - let them come out when they feel safe and are ready. This is particularly important for cats, who don't like being told what to do at the best of times!
Be a bright spark
Alternatively, herbal and flower remedies could be given to your pet such as chamomile tea, lavender oil, Dorwest's skullcap and valerian compound or one of the Bach Flower Remedies. However, speak to your vet first before giving your pet any kind of medicine.
If your pet is particularly sensitive to the noises and lights of fireworks, it may be worth speaking to your vet about other options to help calm him/her down.
Take your dog for a long walk before dusk so that they are tired in the evening, but beware of any random fireworks going off. If your dog is particularly nervous, keep them on the lead to stop them running off if scared.
Make sure your cats are locked in too before it goes dark.
It is important that your pet is tagged and/or microchipped if they should run off in fright, so that they can be traced back to you (microchipping dogs will become a legal requirement in April 2016). This can be quickly and easily done at your vets or Pets at Home.
The Bach Centre, Bach Flower Remedies
The Dogs Trust, Sounds Scary sound treatment programme
RSPCA, Fireworks & Pets
Preparing your pets well in advance of Bonfire Night may mean they will be better able to cope with all the noises on the night. For pets that have already developed a noise phobia to fireworks or those that are particularly nervous, a programme of controlled gradual exposure might be worthwhile. The Dogs Trust offers a free download of the Sounds Scary therapy programme, which has been created by two vets specialising in pet behavioural therapy. The whole programme and all the sounds have been scientifically researched and come with a full set of instructions, which makes them easy to use and extremely effective. Download the full manual and sound files here.
If your pet has a severe noise phobia or has previously shown signs of extreme anxiety, please do speak to your vet well in advance of Bonfire Night.
Many pets will hide when the fireworks start so, if they haven't got a favourite safe-place already, you can set one up - putting blankets and/or cushions in an accessible cupboard or under/behind furniture is a good start. Alternatively, a box covered with a blanket (or their crate/cage if your pet is used to being in this) will work just as well. It's best to set up the hidey-hole well in advance of the fireworks, ideally a good few weeks before, and make sure that it's accessible to your pet at all times.
For caged birds and small animals, cover their cage with a blanket, leaving a small gap for ventilation and view.