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Fireworks phobia in your pet

Halloween aka fireworks season is fast approaching – this post has lots of useful hints and tips to help your furry friends feel safe and secure during this noisy period. It’s important to try and keep to your normal routine as to not add to your pet’s anxiety. Ask in any of our clinics for advice about pheromone therapy and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) products that can help with your pet’s fears.

Preparing your pet for firework season:

There are a few simple things that we can do to help our pets feel safe and secure during Halloween. If you plan well in advance, you can help your pets tolerate the noise with a gradual desensitisation program. That means exposing your pet to the sounds of fireworks, day after day, starting super quiet (just at the volume they barely hear it) and increasing the volume slightly each time. This can be done by using a noise desensitisation CD or clip from YouTube. Stop increasing the volume if they seem to react badly to it and reward your pet when they respond well. This can take quite a long time, so better to do it long before or after firework season.

The best way to prepare your cats and dogs for fireworks is to think like a cat/dog. They feel scared as they are alarmed by the loud noises of fireworks but do not understand that fireworks cannot harm them. That’s why they feel safer when they have a hiding space. You can make your pet a ‘safe zone’ or a ‘den’. If your pet already has a hiding place then this space can be used, making it as snug and secure for your pet as possible by adding blankets or bedding.

Helpful hints for dogs:

  • Try to take your dog for a walk before dusk so that they are relaxed and will not need to go out to the toilet once the fireworks start.
  • If your pet was to panic and escape during the fireworks season a Microchip can help to ensure that you are reunited. 
  • Feed your dog in the mid to late afternoon, as this can also help them relax.
  • At dusk ensure that your dog is safe indoors. Do not leave your dog alone if fireworks are expected.
  • Provide a safe place your dog can retreat to if they wish but do not shut them in – as long as it is safe, allow your dog to find the place they feel most comfortable – this may be with you or it could be under a bed! You can help guide this choice by providing a safe “den”, such as a dog crate / box covered on three sides and with blankets for them to dig into, well in advance of the event. Encourage your dog to use and make positive associations with the den by putting treats in it.
  • Drawing the curtains can prevent your dog being startled by flashing lights.
  • Playing music or turning up the volume on the television can help to minimise the impact of the sound of the fireworks.
  • If your dog has never reacted to noises before try not to act as if there is something to worry about. Simply say in a cheerful voice “that was loud” and then try playing a game or doing some training with them to help form a positive association with the fireworks.
  • Do not punish your dog for showing fearful behaviour. If they are frightened then it is OK to comfort them. Contrary to what you will often hear it is not possible to reinforce an emotion such as fear.

Helpful hints for cats:

  • Ensure your cat is safely indoors before dusk and that all windows, doors and cat flaps are secure. • Even if your cat does not usually use a litter tray make sure that one is available at this time of year – if there are multiple cats in your household, we suggest having extra litter trays to avoid stress between the cats. 
  • Close the curtains to minimise flashes which could frighten your cat.
  • Putting on music or turning up the volume on the television can help to mask the sound of fireworks.
  • If your cat seems quite relaxed try playing a game and offering favoured treats to help form positive associations.
  • Ensure your cat has suitable safe places to hide if required. (Cats will often choose to hide in a dark cupboard or under a bed so make sure these places are accessible and also offer a selection of boxes in various locations for your cat). Do not try to move them once they have selected a hiding place.
  • If your pet was to panic and escape during the fireworks season a Microchip can help to ensure that you are reunited.

Helpful tips for small Pets / Birds

  • Consider bringing pets inside if possible or putting hutches into a shed or garage.
  • If your pet lives outside ensure that their cage or aviary is safe / secure and soundproof it as best you can (tarpaulin or old duvets can be useful).
  • Offer extra bedding for pets to burrow into. Upturned cardboard boxes stuffed with hay can provide a good hiding place for small mammals.