November to January, time for celebrations and fireworks! Whilst the human members of your family may be looking forward to the festivities, your furry friends may well be dreading it! It’s estimated that 49% of pets have a firework phobia with up to a third of those having a phobia so intense it may impact on their health and quality of life. If you know your pet has a severe fear of fireworks don’t just wait for Bonfire Night or New Year – There are long, medium and short term measures you can take to help your pet stay safe and fear free over the fireworks season.
Long term behavioral help
- Behavioral therapy– Recommended for animals with severe noise phobias. A trained behaviorist can work though ways to desensitise your pet and help them stay calm. Anyone can call themselves a behaviorist, contact the practice or have a look at the behavioural problems page for a list of accredited behaviorists in the area.
- Sound desensitisation– This will take time but guided self-help packs are available to help your pet get used to loud noises. This technique can also be helpful when getting young animals used to loud noises, research shows that puppies exposed to sound recordings of thunder and fireworks at a young age are 5-7 times less likely to develop a noise phobia! Advice on how to desensitise your dog/ puppy along with good quality sounds recording can be found here.
Before the day
- Make sure your pet is microchipped– a lot of pets go missing when frightened. Should the worst happen make sure your pet can find their way home.
- Build a den– a cupboard, crate or under the bed, somewhere your pet can hide and feel safe. Use familiar blankets and toys to make it as comfortable as possible and muffle the noise and flashes.
- Pheromone diffusers– These mimic comforting hormonal signals and can be used on their own for mild cases or as an additional help for very worried pets. Ideally they should be started 1-2 months before the night for maximum effect.
- Diet supplements– contain a type of protein shown to help dogs and cats relax. This can be started 1-2 days before a stressful event although for severe cases treatment is recommended 1-2 months before.
- Come and talk to us!– if you know your animal has a severe phobia of fireworks there are medications we can prescribe to help keep them calm. Some medications might require one or two weeks of treatment prior to the event so the earlier you come and see us the more options we can offer.
On the night
- Walk your dog in the day light and keep them on the lead.
- Secure external doors, windows and cat flaps leaving internal doors open so they don’t feel trapped.
- Close curtains and put on some music before the fireworks begin – music with a strong drum beat works best.
- Let your pet hide in their safe place.
- Praise your pet when they remain calm.
- Take your dog to a firework display, even if they don’t appear fearful, it’s unlikely to be an event they’ll enjoy.
- Leave your pet alone if they get frightened.
- Tell your pet off if they’ve been destructive due to distress.
- Tie your dog up outside when fireworks are likely to go off.
- Show signs of fear yourself- try to be jolly and even react positively to the fireworks.
- Praise them when they show signs of fear, it’s fine to sit with them but try not to give lots of praise as they may associate the behavior with a positive response.
- Restrain them or try and tempt them out when they hide.
Small Furries (Rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters etc.)
- Outdoor Rabbits and Guinea pigs should be brought indoors before fireworks start.
- If it’s not possible to bring them indoors make sure you turn their hutch to face the wall and cover with a blanket to muffle the noise.
- Provide extra bedding to allow your pet to hide and help them feel safe.
- Spare a thought for wildlife and check your bonfires before you light them!
Most importantly stay safe and have fun!