Top tips for surviving Fireworks Night with your pet

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Fear of fireworks will affect almost all our pets to some degree - loud noises and flashes of light are inherently fearful things! While some pets are extremely distressed and may well require medication prescribed by their vet to keep them safe and prevent them from harming themselves or others in panic, most pets will be at least a little upset by a loud firework display nearby. For these pets, a few simple changes to the environment and common-sense actions by owners can help keep them safe and happy during this difficult time of year.

Remember, remember, that fireworks aren't just a hazard on the 5th of November. The weekends either side of this date are likely to be chosen for community and family displays. Diwali, the autumn Hindu 'Festival of Lights' is traditionally associated with the use of fireworks and falls this year on October the 23rd. Christmas and New Year are increasingly also becoming associated with firework use, as are large family celebrations such as weddings and birthdays.

Bring pets indoors and keep them indoors after dark

This seems obvious, but is often overlooked - fireworks are much more frightening, and more immediate, if you're not protected from them by being indoors. At this time of year especially, it's a really good idea to make sure cats are kept safe indoors between dusk and dawn. Cats spooked by fireworks can easily get themselves into dangerous situations with traffic, or try to hide away in small spaces that they will struggle to get themselves out of, or climb into locations that they will not be able to get down from.

Pets who may usually live outdoors, such as rabbits and guinea pigs in hutches and runs, and hens - an increasingly common pet, even in urban areas - will also benefit from being brought indoors - ideally, into the house overnight, but if that's not practical, then moving the hutch or coop into a shed, garage, or other outbuilding can provide a useful degree of sound protection and muffling. Rabbits, rodents, and birds are particularly at risk from stress, which is often a cause of serious ill-health, so please don't neglect their needs at this frightening time!

Walk dogs before dark

Make sure your dog gets a good walk before it goes dark - it's obvious, when you think about it, but about the most frightening thing is a firework (a rocket, for example) whining up into the air and exploding straight over a dog's head while they are out for their evening walk. These sort of experiences are remembered and often set the stage for more serious sound phobias to develop, so avoiding them as far as possible is a really important part of prevention. Once darkness falls, try as much as possible to keep your dogs indoors.

Stay in on 'high risk' nights

Many pet owners would love to be out, enjoying the big local firework display. But leaving your pet at home on their own to cope with the unusual noises and lights is likely to make a stressful situation worse for them. Your presence - and most importantly, your normal behaviour - is a great comfort to pets who may be frightened and confused by what they can see and hear going on outside.

While your pet may seek comfort, and appear afraid and distressed, try as far as possible to behave normally around them - it's natural to want to comfort them but you risk reinforcing their view that this is a fearful situation. By staying at home with them, but getting on with your normal activities, avoiding excessive fuss, you can start to reassure your pet that, as far as you are concerned, all is well, and they have nothing to fear.

Make a den

Hiding from danger is a natural and useful behaviour shared by almost all animals. Make sure, in firework season, that your pet has somewhere safe and enclosed to hide. Consider some of the places they usually choose to lie and rest, and select one which is most suitable for den-building - perhaps in a corner, or behind or under a piece of furniture. Ideally make this in a room or a place where sounds from outside will be muffled - not too near windows and ideally away from outside walls of buildings. Indoor corridors or landings can be a good choice.

Using blankets, towels, or old duvets, build a nice thick cover for the den; this provides several benefits - a covered den will feel safer and more enclosed to the pet, but the thick materials will also muffle sounds and prevent flashes of light from entering. Put a favourite bed inside, along with a preferred toy or two. You may need to encourage your pet into the den, and sit quietly beside them (perhaps reading a book) while they settle themselves in. Den-making is particularly simple for dogs who are used to sleeping in a crate, as it's just a matter of covering the crate over with some nice thick materials.

Close windows, doors, and curtains

Keeping windows and doors closed securely not only reduces the sound getting into the house, but avoids a significant and dangerous escape route that may be used by frightened animals. Unfortunately, every year terrified pets escape from homes as a result of fireworks and suffer accidents and injuries. In some cases, sadly, they never find their way home.

Closing curtains and blinds not only goes some way to reducing visible flashes of light, but will also muffle sounds a little. The thicker and heavier the curtains, the better the effect. If you have windows without good thick coverings, and know fireworks are likely to come from that direction (perhaps you overlook a public park or gardens) think creatively about how you might create a temporary covering, for instance by taping up bin bags with masking tape, or hanging a blanket over the window or door.

Put on an action movie

While a ‘rom-com’ may be more your thing, they won't do for this particular job. An action movie with a thumping soundtrack and a good succession of car chases, crashes, and explosions, may just convince your pet that the noises outside are actually coming from the TV and are nothing to worry about.

If you have to be out in the evening during the high-risk period, consider leaving the radio on and tuned to a station with a taste for music with a powerful base beat - though please always consider your neighbours when doing this!

Speak with your vet (the sooner the better)

Some pets - those most seriously affected by firework and noise phobias - may need the help of prescribed sedatives to help get them through firework season safely. Most vets prefer to avoid sedatives if at all possible, as there is evidence that in the longer-term and particularly if used carelessly, they may actually worsen noise phobias. Some pets however can be so distressed, and their behavioural responses become so extreme, that they are at risk of harming themselves or other members of their household. If you feel your pet falls into this category, contact your vet for an appointment straight away, as they will need to assess your pet's health before recommending medication which is as safe and appropriate as possible.

 Do however consider seeing your vet even if your pet’s reactions to fireworks are not this severe. They may well have suggestions of medications, treatments and behavioural approaches which can help improve things for your pet, both in the immediate and longer term. A range of treatments for stress and anxiety, including pheromone therapies like 'Feliway' for cats and 'Adaptil' for dogs, and non-sedative medical treatments may sometimes be helpful in keeping pets settled and calm in the face of worrying events such as fireworks. Many of these treatments take a little while to become effective and are best started a week or more before the anticipated difficulty, so the time to speak to your vet is now!

Consider starting a desensitisation programme

Behavioural training programmes, often involving the use of a CD including firework noises, can be really helpful in improving noise phobias in affected pets, particularly where these programmes are carried out under the guidance of an experienced and qualified behaviourist. Speak to your vet – they may take a specialist interest in behaviour, or they should be able to recommend a good local practitioner.

The right time to start such programmes is when you have a maximum window of opportunity before the next frightening event is likely to occur. We are now far too close to 'firework season' for desensitisation to be of much value, but how about making it your new year's resolution?

 

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What every dog owner needs to know about fireworks and their dog!

Every year millions of dogs all over the world are terrified by the sound of fireworks exploding in their midst. Think of all of the dogs that suffer on Bonfire night in the UK, Independence Day in the USA, New Year’s Eve all over the world and the spectacular Hindu Festival, Diwali in India.

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