Autumn marks the beginning of firework season – a common cause of stress in pets. Our vets have put together their top tips to make firework season a calmer time for your pet.
Fear of fireworks
Lots of pets are anxious and frightened of fireworks – our 2018 Paw Report found that around 40% of owners of cats and dogs report that their pet is afraid of fireworks. Loud bangs and high pitched sounds 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 finding firework season stressful. Speak to your vet for more advice about how to help them.
- 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.).
- 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.
- Stamping hind feet
- Staying motionless
- Trying to escape.
How to make firework night less stressful for your pet
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. You can read our advice on socialising puppies here and about socialising kittens here.
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.
If your dog, cat or rabbit is already suffering from a phobia of fireworks there are lots of things you can do to help reduce their fears and get them through the season. A couple of months before, use a desensitisation CD to gradually get the used to the noises. Start at the lowest possible volumes and very gradually increase the volume and duration of sounds each day over a number of 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 for firework season
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 is used to seeking 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. This will give your pet a place to hide where they feel safe. Dogs might like a den behind a sofa in a quiet room or even at the bottom of a cupboard. In the weeks leading up to firework season, 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 to help 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.
- 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 #FireworkReady checklist will help you make sure you've got everything covered for your pet.
What should I do on firework nights to help keep my cat or dog calm?
- Take your dog for a walk well before fireworks are due to begin.
- 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 their way of coping.
- If your pet is used to seeking reassurance from you in stressful times, comfort them as you would normally.
- Stay calm yourself. 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 - if they run away from home, there is more chance you will be reunited.
How to help small pets and wildlife on bonfire night
- Partly cover hutches and outdoor cages with blankets, so they’re more sound-proofed. If your rabbits or guinea pigs are still outdoors then it’s a good idea to move the hutch into a car-free garage or shed a few nights before bonfire night or organised fireworks displays.
- 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.
- Hedgehogs may think an unlit bonfire is a great place to sleep. So build any bonfires as late as possible, investigate thoroughly and disturb around 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 treated for their fear using behavioural training. It takes time and patience, but can really help 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 e.g. thyroid disease.
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 loud noises are nothing to be afraid of. Sometimes medication prescribed by a vet is used to help with the behavioural therapy.
Owners sometimes ask vets to prescribe tranquilisers for their pet. Some drugs that were once popular are no longer used because they don’t reduce fear, just an animal’s ability to respond. This can 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 bonfire night 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 advice to put together our playlists. From rock dogs to classical cats, there's something for everyone to enjoy!