Looking After Your Pet on Bonfire Night
Remember, remember the 5th of November…
Unfortunately, this time of year is impossible to forget for most pet owners.
People knocking on the door wearing Halloween costumes, the banging of fireworks and flashing lights can be terrifying for pets and cause them to behave in ways that are unpredictable. This not only poses a risk to the safety of our pet, but also to us and other people, especially if they become unusually aggressive.
Cats and dogs are particularly susceptible to severe anxiety induced by fireworks, but so are many small furry pets, such as rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs.
We have specific advice for each type of pet below, but please call our veterinary team if you have any concerns about your pet during firework season.
Do you dread firework season because of the effect it has on your pet? Every year thousands of pets suffer from the unfamiliar sights and sounds of Halloween and Bonfire Night, but for some pets this time of year can be particularly debilitating.
Firework phobia is a treatable condition in most cases through exposure to recordings of similar sights and sounds, and in severe cases it may be possible to refer your pet to an animal behaviourist. Please make an appointment with one of our veterinary surgeons if you feel that your pet may require more intensive support during firework season.
Advice for Dog Owners
Dogs can react very badly to Halloween and Bonfire Night so it’s a good idea to be aware of the signs. Typical behaviours that suggest your dog is afraid include:
- Trembling and shaking
- Clinging to owners
- Excessive barking and/or whining
- Cowering behind furniture
- Pacing and panting
- Trying to run away
- Toileting in the house
- Refusing to eat
- Increased aggression
If your dog starts to exhibit any of these behaviours, it’s a good idea to be prepared with anxiety reducing methods that will alleviate their distress:
- Keep your dog indoors – make sure you walk your dog before the fireworks are being let off and trick or treaters are doing their rounds, which is usually in the late afternoon and evening. If you have to take your dog out, keep it short and on the lead just in case they start to behave aggressively. Don’t leave your dog either tied up or off a lead in the garden and never force your dog to face its fears as it will only become more frightened. We also advise against taking your dog to a fireworks display even if they don’t whimper and whine. You may think your dog is happy, but more subtle behaviours such as excessive yawning and panting can also indicate that they are afraid.
- Be prepared – find out when and where fireworks events are occurring in your area and ask neighbours about their intention to host private events. Try to plan your walks around these displays. We also advise that you feed your dog before the fireworks start as severe anxiety can make them lose their appetite.
- Secure your home – make sure that all windows and doors are closed to minimise the noise of fireworks coming in from outside. We also recommend that you close your curtains to further muffle the noise and block out any scary flashes of light. If your dog is used to the sight and sound of the TV or radio, then turn them on as this can be soothing.
- Create a safe den – dogs love small cubbyholes to hide and feel secure in. This can be a particularly good way of calming your dog during firework season. Ideally, the den should be constructed in a room that your dog associates with pleasure, such as the room they eat in. Make the den as small and as comfortable as possible by providing soft, cosy bedding on the bottom and around the sides. It is also a good idea to put pieces of your unwashed clothing in the den so that they can smell your scent, which will help them to feel more comfortable and relaxed. Make the entrance to the den as small as possible and try to create a flap with a blanket or piece of clothing. Allow your dog access to the den at all times. If your dog likes to hide under furniture, you can create the den there by making it more cosy with duvets, pillows, etc. as well as giving them unwashed clothing to snuggle up to.
- Behave normally – your behaviour is also very important as your dog is well in tune with you and will pick up on anything odd. It’s hard to witness your dog in distress, but it’s vital that you remain calm and happy, as this will send positive signals to your dog. Let your dog whine, pant, pace and hide in a corner if they want to. Trying to relax them by stroking their head is fine, but if they want to hide, don’t try to coax them out as that can make them more stressed. Be with your dog and aware of their need for comfort; ignoring them will only make things worse. Never shout or scold an anxious dog for whining, destructive behaviours or toileting in the house as this will only make them more afraid. Praise and reward them for calm behaviours. Finally, we advise that you keep to your normal routine as much as possible as too many changes can increase your dog’s distress.
- Investigate calming products – if you know that your dog is particularly sensitive to fireworks, there are a wide range of diffusers, collars and natural calming medications on the market that can help to ease your dog’s anxiety. We normally recommend that these are started several weeks before firework season for optimum affect. We also stock calming vests at the Practice, which are designed to mimic the experience of being held. This is a particularly good solution to keeping your dog calm when the fireworks are going off, especially if you cannot be with them at the time. Please contact our veterinary staff who will be able to assist you on the best calming products for your dog.
- Microchipping and Id Badges – given that all dogs in the UK must be microchipped by law, it is likely that you have already had this done. However, given that dogs can be more likely to escape and run away during firework season, it might also be a good idea to clip ID badges with your details onto their collars or harnesses.
If you have any questions or concerns about your dog during firework season, we strongly recommend that you contact the practice and our veterinary team will be happy to help you.
Advice for Cat Owners
Similar to dogs, cats can also react very badly to the loud, unfamiliar sounds and bright lights created by fireworks. The signs that your cat is afraid include:
- Vocalising (meowing)
- Trying to escape
- Not eating
- Urinating and defecating in the home
- Excessive grooming
- Running away
If you notice your cat behaving in this manner during the firework season, we have the following tips that should help to reduce your cat’s distress:
- Keep your cat indoors – this is especially important after dark when most firework displays begin. Set up a litter tray indoors if your cat is used to having garden access. Close all doors, windows, draw the curtains and lock any cat flaps to reduce the noise from the fireworks outside, but to also prevent your cat from trying to escape. If your cat is used to having the TV and/ or radio on, then this can be soothing, while also blocking out some of the noise.
- Create hiding places – cats normally love to curl up on their favourite sofa or rug in front of the fire, but when they are afraid, they prefer to hide. You can prepare for fireworks season by creating dens and cubbyholes for your cat. For example, allowing them access to under your bed, or purchasing an igloo style cat bad and placing it either under a piece of furniture or on top of wardrobe. Some cats like to be high up when they’re afraid, which is why so many of them get stuck up trees!
- Your behaviour – your behaviour can also have an impact on how distressed your cat can be during fireworks season. It’s very important that you try to remain calm and normal. We understand that it’s distressing for owners to see their cats terrified at this time of year, but your cat will sense your fear and this will only worsen their anxiety. However, it’s also important that you let your cat roam freely and hide if they wish too. Trying to be overly reassuring by picking them up, holding and stroking them can make matters worse. Let your cat hide and come out when they feel safe to do so.
- Consider calming products – there is a wide range of cat calming products in the form of herbal remedies, diffusers and vests that are specifically designed to reduce anxiety in your cat. We normally recommend that these are started a few weeks before fireworks season so as to have the optimum relaxation effects. Our veterinary staff will be happy to assist you on getting the right calming products for your cat.
If you have any questions or concerns about your cat during firework season, we strongly recommend that you contact the practice and our veterinary team will be happy to help you.
Advice for Small Furry Pet Owners
Small furry pets such as rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs and gerbils often get overlooked during fireworks season, but they are also easily frightened by loud bangs and whizzes and need to be treated with special care. Signs that your small furry pet is afraid include:
- Hiding or trying to run away
- Chewing cage bars
- Over grooming
- Reluctance to move
- Repeated circling of the enclosure
- Being excessively jumpy with bulging eyes
- Being aggressive
- Drinking excessively
- Changes to toilet habits, either more or less frequent
If your notice these behaviours in your pet during firework season, there are things that you can do to reduce their distress:
- Bring your pet indoors – hutches and cages should be brought inside to either the home or a garage. Similar to the advice for cats and dogs, we suggest that you close all the windows and draw any curtains to block out the unfamiliar sights and sounds. If you cannot bring your pet indoors, we recommend that you cover their cage with duvets and blankets to muffle out the sounds and make them feel more secure; but remember to leave a small area uncovered for ventilation and to allow your pet to peer out.
- Increase comfort – give your small furry pet lots of extra bedding that they can burrow into and get cosy. You could also give them another place to hide by placing a cardboard box full of hay inside their enclosure with holes cut in the side that are big enough to allow them access into and out of the box.
- Create soothing distraction – similar to the advice for cats and dogs, small furry pets can also be soothed by calming music on the radio or a having the TV on in the background.
- Calming remedies – there are various products such as diffusers and sprays that can help to relax your small furry pet during the firework season. Please contact our veterinary team who will be happy to assist you on the best calming products for your pet.
If you have any questions or concerns about your small furry animal during firework season, we strongly recommend that you contact the practice and our veterinary team will be happy to help you.