Whether you absolutely love them, or secretly despise them, fireworks are exploding their way into our lives again very soon. They don’t only happen once a year, they can happen more often as people celebrate their special events with loved ones.
Fireworks can have a huge impact on so many animals, from woodland and wild animals to our cuddly at home companion animals. Pets have more sensitive senses than us humans – in fact did you know a dog hears sounds 4 times further a way than us? Firework sounds can be extremely distressing for pets, so it is essential to know how to help them get through the louder festivities. More importantly, knowing how to prepare them well in advance for times outside the known firework times is vital, as we all know it may not just be Bonfire night, Diwali, or New Year’s Eve where the loud bangs in the sky are present…
Read on for ways you can prepare your companion for the upcoming frightening fireworks.
Plan in advance
There are many de-sensitisation techniques that you can try in order to help prepare your pet before bonfire night. It is important to note however, that a full de-sensitisation routine can take months to complete so you should start to think about preparing your pet 9-12 months in advance. This is because, understandably, it can take a great deal of time and patience to work through noise phobias. Starting in the New Year or around Spring, will enable you to gradually build up a tolerance to noise rather than rushing through the process. Before you begin any noise de-sensitisation technique, always ensure that you are aware of your pet’s noise tolerance beforehand, and observe them carefully for signs of distress, so as to avoid creating a new phobia.
Be aware of your surroundings and keep in mind that you may need to adjust your dog’s walk time on the run up to bonfire night. This time of year, you may be looking to walk your dog slightly earlier in order to avoid the darker evenings, but it can be just as important to walk earlier on so as to avoid dusk and peak firework time. Keep your dogs on the lead, and be mindful that they may be more easily startled by any abrupt noise or movement, and dart off without any warning. If you are struggling to fit in their walk after work hours, is there anyone who can walk them for you during daylight or at lunch times? Putting a plan in place to walk them earlier on can really help.
Always keep cats inside during fireworks and try to ensure they have a safe space to curl up and hide in if need be. Cats are likely to sneak off and find somewhere quiet to snooze so having a safe spot in mind can help you know where they are at all times, so you know where they may be should they happen to go missing.
It is also a good idea to move smaller animals such as rabbits or guinea pigs under a sheltered area too. If yours live outside, try moving them into a shed or garage so that the noise and bright flashes are slightly reduced for them.
Sights and sounds
It isn’t only the noise that is daunting, but sights can be too. Ensuring windows and doors are kept shut with the curtains drawn, can reduce startling your pet. Playing music or having the TV on can provide some distracting noises too. Lighting candles, or dimly lighting the room, ensuring any
flames are kept safely out of the way, can also help provide a relaxed atmosphere. If your pet does want to hide away, allow them to sneak off and find somewhere they find quiet. This may be a dark spot so avoid switching the lights on in any rooms they are seeking shelter in.
Searching for podcasts or playlists for your pet can also help. Occasionally radio stations provide a pet-friendly playlist between peak firework hours (6pm-10pm) on evenings where fireworks are the most popular. For other ideas for pet playlists, you can read our article on Pet Playlists, here.
Our pets have a much stronger sense of smell than us owners, and fireworks have a very strong scent. To help mask the smell, baking or cooking can help. Foods with strong scents, such as toast, coffee or fragrant dishes with some herbs and spices may help to mask some of the gunpowder and burning smells from outside.
You can also try some effective pet products to help mask the smell. Speak to your vet to find out which products may be most effective for your pet. This may be something like Feliway or Adaptil Calm. There are also other brands that have diffuser type products or sprays, that can help mask a smell and provide calming effects.
Taste and Touch
A light stroke or a gentle cuddle is a brilliant way to reassure during stressful situations. Touch is a lovely distraction and can help calm the nerves, and restore a sense of normality for your dog or cat. Pressure can also be closely linked with touch, similarly to us a great big hug can often make us feel a lot better. If your pet is comfortable, and generally takes hugs well without jumping back, then a hug could help your pet. You can also look at other longer lasting way to help such as providing pressure wraps. Homemade pressure wraps (you can make these out of scarf material) can provide a sense of security, and will create a snug fit to help them feel calmer. However, never force an item on your pet. If they are showing signs of avoiding the product, trust what they are trying to tell you, and leave them be. For extremely frightened pets who are avoiding the pressure wraps, your vet may be able to provide help throughout the pressure process, and guide them so that they are feeling secure with minimal distress.
Taste is also a very useful sense when it comes to helping reduce stress in your pet. Providing a routine or schedule can reassure your dog and cat, so timing their meals or sticking to a specific feeding time can be very beneficial. Meals higher in carbohydrates can also help with sleep, so a meal of chicken and rice can be a tasty option for them during expected noisier times. If you do choose to give your pet chicken and rice, never add butter, milk or salt to it. You can also try adding their food to a puzzle feeder bowl as a great distraction and entertainment to the noise outside.
You may find that counter conditioning programs can work wonders alongside desensitization. The two do require a lot of time, patience and effort, however they can have lasting effects for your pet.
The way counter conditioning works is by counteracting the fear response elicited by the stimulus, with a positive reinforcement, such as a special new toy, or a yummy treat. When using this method it is important to know what will excite your pet, and saving it only for times when fear may be oncoming. It is important not to push your pet too quickly, little and office will be more beneficial and remember that they have individual thoughts and feelings, so make sure to build this training around your pets moods and temperament.
We all know when to expect fireworks and generally know which days they may be most present. However as mentioned, fireworks can happen anytime of year. Therefore knowing when and how to put a de-sensitisation plan in place is so important. Give the above suggestions a go, allowing for time and perseverance, ensuring to use all the senses from touch to taste are utilised. If your pet shows increased signs of anxiety or stress, or is becoming unwell speak to your local veterinary practice.