How to prepare your pets for fireworks

Fireworks can be scary for our pets and are a common cause of stress. Our vets have put together their top tips to help keep pets calm during fireworks.

Firework guide

Our free Firework Guide will help you make sure you've got everything covered for your pet.

 

Pets' fear of fireworks

Many pets are anxious and scared of fireworks – our 2018 Paw Report found that around 40% of owners of cats and dogs report that their pet is afraid of fireworks.

Our pets' senses are much more sensitive than ours, so loud bangs, high pitched sounds, unexpected flashes and the unfamiliar smells of fireworks can be scary for our four-pawed friends. Luckily, with the right care, you can keep your pet calm and help them cope.


Signs of stress in pets

If your pet is showing these symptoms, they might be afraid of fireworks. Speak to your vet for more advice about how to help them.

Dogs:

  • Trembling and shaking
  • Clinging to owners
  • Excessive barking
  • Cowering and hiding behind furniture
  • Trying to run away
  • Going to the toilet in the house
  • Pacing and panting
  • Refusing to eat
  • Destructive behaviour (chewing furniture etc.)

Cats:

  • Cowering and hiding behind or on top of furniture
  • Trying to run away
  • Going to the toilet around the house, instead of outside or in their litter box
  • Refusing to eat

Rabbits:

  • Stamping hind feet
  • Staying motionless
  • Trying to escape
  • Eating less


How to keep pets calm during fireworks

Start early!

Good socialisation – getting them used to common sights and sounds – will help your kitten or puppy grow up to be a calm and confident adult. Read our advice on socialising puppies here and about socialising kittens.

Playing a socialisation CD is a good way of getting them used to sounds, including fireworks. If your pet hears the sound of fireworks at a young age in a safe, calm environment, they’re more likely to be calm and unafraid when they hear real fireworks.

Adult pets

If your dog, cat or rabbit is already suffering from a phobia of fireworks, you can do many things to help reduce their fears. A few months before fireworks begin, use a desensitisation CD to get them used to the noises. Start at the lowest possible volumes and gradually increase the volume and duration of sounds each day over several weeks. Reward and praise any calm behaviours and if you see anxiety, stop immediately and take it back to the previous volume – only progress when they are calm.

 

Preparing pets for fireworks

Staffie hiding under curtain
  • Follow their lead. Different pets cope with the noise of fireworks in different ways. Give them a safe place to hide but let them be near you if they'd rather. If your pet seeks reassurance from you in stressful times, gently talk to and distract them as you would normally. This is a short-term solution to help your pet cope while they're afraid. In the long term, it's important to give your pet another way to cope – e.g. by providing a den – in case you aren't there when they're scared.

  • Create a den. Providing a space for your pet to hide in will help them feel safe. Dogs might like a den behind the sofa, in a quiet room or even in a cupboard. In the weeks leading up to fireworks, give your dog access to this den at all times. Cover the den with blankets and line it with pillows or cushions to absorb some of the noise. Give healthy treats and praise when your dog uses it to build a positive association but don't force them to use it if they prefer to hide somewhere else.

  • Cats often feel safest when high up. So they may prefer a space on a shelf or the top of a cupboard. A covered cat bed is ideal for helping them feel protected, but make sure this is well secured so it won't accidentally fall off. If they already have a favourite place to hide, encourage them to use this and give them healthy treats when they do.

  • Use a pheromone plug-in. Pheromones are scents that calm pets (and some people say it works on them too!), but we can't smell them. They're available from our PDSA pet store.

  • Keep pets inside. While fireworks are going off, it’s best to keep pets inside. If your cat usually goes outdoors, it’s a good idea to bring them in before it goes dark and to lock the cat flap. But make sure you have a cat litter tray, so they’re still able to go to the toilet while they’re inside.
  • Plan ahead. Make a note of the dates of local fireworks displays in your diary, or put a reminder in your phone. This will help you to plan ahead and make sure you can be there for your pet when they need you. Our free Firework Guide will help you make sure you've got everything covered for your pet. 

 

What should I do to help keep my cat or dog calm during fireworks?

  • Take your dog for a walk before dark, well before fireworks are due to begin, to avoid scaring your dog.
  • Don’t pick up cats or restrain them if they are scared: cats prefer to control how they cope.
  • Keep doors, windows and cat and dog flaps closed.
  • Draw the curtains and play music with a repetitive beat to help mask the sounds.
  • If your pet prefers to go away and hide, let them. Leave them alone and don’t try to comfort them – this is your pet's way of coping.
  • If your pet seeks reassurance from you in stressful times, comfort them as you would normally.
  • Stay calm. Keep your tone, mood and behaviour as normal as possible. If you get very anxious or comfort your pet more than usual, this can make your pet more unsettled.
  • Never punish your pets. It’s not their fault they’re scared, and it adds to their anxiety.
  • Get your pet microchipped and ensure your details are up to date - if they run away from home, there is more chance you will be reunited.
  • Feed a calming pet food or supplement to help manage your pet’s stress and anxiety

 

How to help small pets and wildlife during fireworks

  • Partly cover hutches and outdoor cages with blankets, so they’re more sound-proofed but still well ventilated. If your rabbits or guinea pigs live outdoors, then it's good to move the hutch into a car-free garage or shed a few nights before fireworks are expected.
  • Make sure your pets have hiding places and secure areas where they can feel safe.
  • Give plenty of bedding – this helps keep noise out and provides a hiding place.
  • Ensure the bonfire is nowhere near any pets and smoke isn’t drifting towards hutches.
  • Hedgehogs may think an unlit bonfire is a great place to sleep. So build any bonfires as close as possible to the day of the event, investigate thoroughly, and disturb the bottom of it before lighting to let any wildlife escape.

 

How to help a pet with severe phobias

Pets that are scared of fireworks and other loud noises can be helped using behavioural training. It takes time and patience but can make a real difference for your pet.

Speak to your vet about your pet's fear of loud noises. They'll thoroughly check there isn't a medical reason for their stress, such as thyroid disease or a site of pain. For example, if an older dog suddenly develops a fear or phobia, it could be associated with a painful event during the noise. For instance, if the dog jumped up after hearing a loud noise and it caused arthritic pain.

Your vet may recommend behavioural therapy or suggest referral to an accredited pet behaviourist. Behavioural therapy often uses a technique called 'desensitisation and counter-conditioning'. Over time, this teaches your pet that they don't need to be afraid of loud noises. Sometimes medication prescribed by a vet is used to help with behavioural therapy.

Owners sometimes ask vets to prescribe medications for their pets. Some once-popular drugs, such as sedatives or tranquillisers, are no longer used because they don't reduce fear, just an animal's ability to respond. Imagine being scared of something but unable to get up and move away; this could make a pet's fear of fireworks even worse. However, there are products licensed for use with fireworks phobias that may help to reduce anxiety without just sedating pets. Speak to your vet about whether this is appropriate for your pet.

 

Pet calming playlists

Creating a soundtrack to disguise the whizzes and bangs of fireworks can help to keep your pet calm. We asked the pet owners on our Facebook page which music works for their pets and we've used their suggestions to put together our playlists. From rock dogs to classical cats, there's something for everyone to enjoy! Try one of ours:

Rock dogs

Blues and pop pooches

Background noise