Fireworks/Loud Noises

 

Fireworks can make celebrations exciting for us, but they’re not always quite as much fun for our cats or dogs. In a survey*, 39% of UK pet owners reported that their pets are scared of fireworks. Whilst this is an improvement of 22% since 2013 and is a credit to the work and intervention of vets, behaviourists and owners, it’s still over a third of all our pets that are scared of fireworks.

 

As the improvement shows, there are things we can do to help keep them calmer and safer. It’s up to you as their owner to help them cope and make sure their fireworks nights are as easy as they can be.

 

Does my cat or dog need help coping with fireworks?

 

Generally, most cats or dogs will struggle with fireworks. Animals have acute senses: for them every flash and bang can be unexpected and alarming. Think about how your cat or dog reacts to fireworks; or if you haven’t had them when there’s been fireworks, how they react to loud noises. Do they show any of the following behaviours?

 

Cats and Dogs

  • Cowering or hiding behind the sofa.
  • Trying to run away or escape.
  • Soiling the house.

 

Dogs only

  • Barking incessantly.
  • Digging up the carpet.
  • Restlessness, e.g. pacing and panting.

 

Cats only

  • Restlessness, e.g. hiding under a bed / in a box.
  • Over grooming.

 

If they show any of these signs, your cat or dog might need help coping.

 

What can I do to help?

 

Speak to your vet for advice a few weeks in advance but be aware that long term behavioural therapy needs to be looked at least 6 months before fireworks season.

 

A few weeks before:

  1. Talk to an expert
    It’s a good idea to discuss with your vet practice or behaviourist any changes you can make in the short term to help your cat or dog.

  2. Build a den
    It’s important that your cat or dog has their own safe place with which they have positive associations. This gives them somewhere to hide when they are uneasy or worried. A den is useful all year round, but is especially good for the fireworks season.


FIND OUT MORE ABOUT DEN BUILDING

  1. Give them Zylkene
    A calming supplement like Zylkene can help dogs and cats cope during festivities which incorporate firework displays. Start Zylkene at least three days before the event is expected and continue throughout the fireworks season. Keep in mind this time can last for a few months; in some areas well into the New Year.

  2. Update their identification
    Your cat or dog might try to run away if fireworks go off near them. Just in case, make sure that the data linked to their microchips and the information on their tags is fully up to date so they will be reunited with you more quickly. It’s better to do it sooner rather than later as some people will start setting off fireworks as soon as they are available in the shops.

  3. If possible, walk your dog when it is still light outside
    This reduces the possibility of their being exposed to any fireworks being set off a few days early and your dog becoming uneasy. This can be tough in autumn and winter with the shorter days; you will need to plan accordingly.

 

On the night Preparation / Before it gets dark

  • Walk your dog earlier in the day before the fireworks are likely to start.
  • Once all of your cats or dogs are inside, make sure all windows, doors and cat flaps are securely closed. This will reduce the chances of your cats or dogs bolting/running off.
  • Provide extra litter trays for cats if they are not used to being confined to the house and ensure they are toilet trained in advance.
  • Always keep cats and dogs inside the house when fireworks are being let off. Do not take your dog to a fireworks display!
  • Pull the curtains and switch on the TV or radio to dull the noise from the fireworks.
  • Try not to leave your cat or dog by themselves while fireworks are going off. Your cat or dog will be more relaxed when they have familiar faces around.
  • Don’t force your cat or dog to come to you, especially if they are in their hiding place or den.
  • Don’t react to the fireworks yourself.
  • Play with a toy and see if your cat or dog wants to join in, but don’t force them.
  • Ignore unusual behaviour, such as panting, shaking or whining, unless they come to you first for reassurance. Give them affection, but no more than usual. Cats and dogs often pick up on their owner’s worry and overcompensating could make things worse.
  • Provide distractions, for example new toys or treats.
  • DO NOT punish or get angry with your cat or dog! This will only make them more uneasy.

 

Long Term Management

 

Once this high risk time has passed it’s a good time to consider how you can best manage your pet’s situation long term to make it less frightening next time. It’s worth being aware that if left unmanaged these behaviours can get worse over time, resulting in increasingly uncontrolled behaviour. It can also have the effect of worsening their response to other unexpected loud noises such as door slamming or thunder.

 

Sound Desensitisation

 

One of the most common methods is using a “sound desensitisation” programme. There have been studies that have shown this to be effective for dogs and cats. The training is similar to programmes that police dogs and horses go through before being put into public work situations. They work by gradually exposing your cat or dog to a tiny amount of sound and then increasing it slowly over time. It can be a long process, but it’s worth it in the end. Our online sound desensitisation programme [LINK] includes clear written and verbal instructions, plus a practice track to help get you started and use the programme effectively.

Ask your vet practice or qualified behaviourist for more advice.

 

*PDSA PAW Report 2015

 

TRY OUT SOUND DESENSITISATION PROGRAMME