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 2016 firework season in the UK will start with Diwali celebrations on the 30th October 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 your veterinary practice can help and advise you.
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 veterinary practices 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
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
“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 a large 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 or turn the hutch 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
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 dont 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.
- 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 3-4 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.
5. Desensitisation (with extreme caution)
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.
Your veterinary nurse can help you
Phone your local veterinary practice and ask to have a chat with a veterinary nurse about helping your pet with his or her fear of fireworks. Most practices offer free appointments and the nurse will also be able to recommend suitable pheromone products or medications (if necessary) to help your pet get through the firework season.
Visit the Adaptil website for more ideas and information about making a den.
Visit the Feliway website for more information