None of us really want to think about the winter holiday season in September, but it is fast approaching and with it comes the bright lights and extreme noise of fireworks. The 2018 firework season in the UK will officially start with Bonfire Night on 5th November, with Diwali close behind, and end on New Years Eve (although that doesn’t mean that people won’t find a reason to let them off outside of these times!). There are many things that you can do to help your pet get through this season and we are here to help and advise.
Some pets are absolutely terrified of fireworks and display behaviours ranging from hiding away, to refusing to go outside and even completely destroying items of furniture if they are left alone in the home. Every year during the firework season, the staff at Castle Vets receive many phone calls from owners about their distressed pets.
It might sound a little premature but now is the time to act if you have a pet that is worried by fireworks. The sooner you prepare your pet the easier it will be for them to cope when the season starts.
Signs your pet is afraid of fireworks
- Refusing to go outside after dark
- Clingy behaviour
- Toileting inside
- Destruction of household objects
How you can help your pet
1. Prevent Fear Of Fireworks
The best thing you can do for your pet is to prevent the fear occurring in the first place. If you own a young animal, this is your opportunity to prevent the bad associations to fireworks that cause so much distress to our pets. Now is the time to teach your pet that he or she has nothing to fear from fireworks.
When the fireworks start, give your pet a tasty treat for each boom, screech, and crackle. This is not the time to be boring with your treats! Get something really good like chicken breast, frankfurters, cheese or ham (whatever floats your pet’s boat!). You can try filling a food toy such as a Kong to keep your pet busy during the fireworks too. Try engaging your dog or cat in a fun game with some new and interesting toys. These simple things not only distract your pet from the noise and lights, but it also creates a very positive association to the fireworks (this technique will also work for thunderstorms)
“Woohoo! Fireworks! that means fun, treats and games!”
2. Preparation (this applies to all pets whether fearful or not)
- Make sure your pet has a den or hiding place where he or she pet feels safe. This can be a simple as a bed behind the sofa, a blanket over a table that your pet can lie under or alarge cardboard box with a bed in it. Encourage your pet to use this den in the run up to the firework season by rewarding them for being there. You can make it more appealing by using Adaptil or Feliway spray (see below). When your pet is in their hiding place, leave them alone.
- Block out some of the firework stimulus. For indoor pets, turn up your television or radio to cover the noise of the fireworks and close the curtains or blinds before it gets dark. For outdoor pets, provide extra bedding material so they can burrow into it and either cover the hutch or turn it around so they cannot see the flashing lights.
- Keep pets inside after dark. Walk your dog earlier in the day and well before dark. Make sure pets are inside and cat flaps are closed.
- Check ID Chips and Tags. Make sure your contact details are correct on tags and microchips, just in case your pet gets frightened and runs away. You can bring your pets to the practice to have them scanned free of charge, to ensure their microchip is reading correctly.
- Don’t leave your pets alone in the house after dark if possible it only takes one bad experience alone and you have a fearful pet on your hands.
For Dogs In Particular
- Help your pet feel sleepy and content. Sometimes feeding a slightly higher carbohydrate diet to dogs will help them feel more sleepy and less worried about the fireworks. Try adding some boiled rice to their food and see if it helps them (Don’t do this if your dog has any kind of food sensitivity though), if necessary speak to a veterinary nurse about how much rice to add, but don’t forget to reduce your dog’s normal food accordingly.
- Provide a distraction. Try and give your dog something else to think about such as a nice big chew or a new toy to play with. Distracting your dog with a fun game can really help them to ignore the noise outside.
- Try to understand what your dog needs from you when he or she is scared. Some dogs will feel safe and secure on their own in their ‘den’ or bed, but others will want to be as close to you as possible for reassurance and either is fine.
- Go for longer walks during the day and well before dark. If you can do this, you will reduce the chance of your dog hearing a firework while out on a walk. Try to incorporate plenty of games to ensure they are happy and tired by the time you get back home.
- Don’t try to force your dog to go outside to the toilet if he or she is scared
These are really useful as they can help increase your pet’s feeling of security during the firework season (and at any other time).
- Adaptil for dogs (available in collar, diffuser and spray format) and Feliway for cats (available as a diffuser and spray format) are both available from your veterinary practice.
- For best effects you should start to be using these products at least 3 weeks before the expected firework season.
- The plug in diffuser should be placed in the area your pet spends most of his or her time (usually the lounge or kitchen) and should be left switched on at all times.
- If you are using the Adaptil collar for your dog, it needs to be reasonably tight (you should still be able to fit two fingers under it), because the dog’s natural body heat allows the collar to function properly, and it should be left on at all times.
- When using the spray, it is best to either spray it on a blanket/towel that can then be placed in the pet’s favourite area (in his/her den or next to you) or you can spray it on a bandana if your dog will wear one. You must leave the spray to air for 15 minutes before placing it near your pet though.
Some very nervous pets may require medication to help them get through the fireworks season. There are some very good non-prescription products available at veterinary practices that can help calm your pet and make him or her feel more relaxed. But each pet is an individual and will have it’s own needs, so we advise that you speak to one of our veterinary nurses before buying any over the counter medications. (These will also need to be started 2-5 days prior to the expected event to have the best effect)
5. Thunder Shirts /Anxiety Vest/Body Wraps
These fitted pet vests/shirts are designed to target various pressure points and create a sensation similar to swaddling a baby. Vets, behaviourists and dog trainers recommend this drug-free option for dogs that suffer from separation anxiety, fear of loud noises (thus the name “Thundershirt”) and travel anxiety. As will all things, they won’t work for all pets, but it is definitely worth giving them a try if you have a dog that is fearful of loud noises as most owners report that their pets are much calmer and more able to cope with one of these on.
We would definitely recommend that you source the product carefully though, as there seem to be a lot of ‘cheaper alternatives’ on the market, which just don’t do the job properly at all.
Desensitisation to fireworks is usually achieved by playing a cd with firework sounds on it on a regular basis until your pet doesn’t react at all. Extreme care needs to be taken when using these methods because you could make the much situation worse, if the process is not carried out properly or if fireworks happen during the desensitisation process. Desensitisation should be started at least 6-8 months before the firework season starts (we usually recommend people start in February). Please do not use this method until you have spoken to a pet behaviourist or one of our veterinary nurses, who can advise you on how to implement it.
Which of the above is the best method for a fearful pet? – All Of Them!
Helping a scared pet get through the firework season and overcome his/her fear (or at least make them feel more able to cope) will usually require a combination of a few or all of the above methods, you just need to find out which ones work best for your pet.
We can help you and your pet
You can make a free appointment to speak to one of our veterinary nurses in person or on the phone, about how you can help your pet get through the firework season.
We can also offer advice to owners of young pets on ways to prevent the fear of fireworks altogether.
Visit the Adaptil website for more ideas and information about making a den.
Visit the Feliway website for more information
Visit the Castle Vets website for contact information