Whether you love them, or secretly despise them, fireworks are exploding their way into our lives again soon, but 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 many animals, from woodland and wild creatures to our cuddly at home companion pets. Our pets have more sensitive senses than us humans, especially dogs who can hear sounds 4 times further away than us! Firework sounds can be very distressing and lead to scared animals, so it’s essential to know how to help them get through the louder festivities. More importantly, knowing how to prepare them well in advance for loud noises at any time is vital, as we know it may not just be Bonfire night, Diwali, or New Year’s Eve where loud bangs are present. Read on for ways you can prepare your companion for the upcoming frightening fireworks.
Plan in Advance to Help With Scared Animals
There are many desensitisation techniques that you can try in order to help with scared animals and prepare them before bonfire night. It’s important to note however, that a full desensitisation routine can take months to complete, so you should start to think about preparing your pet 9 to 12 months in advance. This is because 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 desensitisation 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.
Safety First When It Comes to Scared Animals
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 to avoid dusk and peak firework time. Keep your dogs on a lead, and be mindful that they may be more easily startled by any abrupt noise or movement, and dart off without warning. If you’re struggling to fit in their walk after work hours, you could see if there is anyone who can walk them for you during daylight or at lunch times.
Always keep cats inside during fireworks and try to ensure they have a safe space to curl up and hide if they need it. 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 might be if you suspect they are missing.
It’s also a good idea to move smaller animals such as rabbits or guinea pigs under a sheltered area too. If your’s live outside, try moving them into a shed or garage so the noise and bright flashes are slightly reduced for them.
Sights and Sounds
It isn’t only the noise that can contribute to scared animals, visual stimuli can 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 also provide some distracting noises. Lighting candles, or dimly lighting the room, ensuring any flames are kept safely out of the way, can also provide a relaxed atmosphere. If your pet wants to hide away, allow them to sneak off and find a quiet spot. This may be a dark area, so avoid switching the lights on in any rooms where they’re seeking shelter.
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 pet playlist article.
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 gentle cuddle is a brilliant way to reassure scared animals. 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, and just like with us humans. a big hug can often make us feel a lot better. If your pet is comfortable and takes hugs well without jumping back, then a hug could help your pet. You can also look at longer lasting way to help such as providing pressure wraps. A homemade pressure wrap, made out of scarf material for example, can provide a sense of security and will create a snug fit to help them feel calmer. If your pet is showing signs of avoiding the product, trust what they’re trying to tell you, and leave them be. For extremely frightened pets who are avoiding the pressure wraps, your vet may be able to help throughout the pressure process, and guide them so they’re 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 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 to the noise outside.
Counter-conditioning for Scared Animals
You may find that counter conditioning programs can work wonders alongside desensitisation. 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’s important to know what will excite your pet, and save it only for times when fear may be approaching. It’s important not to push your pet too quickly, little and often will be more beneficial, and remember, 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, fireworks can happen anytime of year, so knowing when and how to put a desensitisation plan in place is so important. Give the above suggestions a go, allowing for time and perseverance, and ensure to use all the senses from touch to taste. If your pet shows increased signs of anxiety, stress, or is becoming unwell, speak to your local veterinary practice.