Fireworks Night doesn’t have to mean Fright Night!
Is Fido frightened? Puss petrified? Thumper terrified? Yes – Fireworks Night is on the horizon again! Fortunately, though, there are ways we can turn this around, making it less scary for them, and less worrying for you. In general, the earlier you start preparing the better – but there are last-minute things you can do to help!
Long-Range Preparation (months in advance)
The most effective way to manage a fear of fireworks is with a Desensitisation programme. This aims to habituate the dog, cat, rabbit or other pet to the sounds that they find scary, so they realise that they’re just background noises and not harmful. It is often combined with Counter-Conditioning programme to encourage them to associate firework noises with something nice happening.
The programme is very straightforward for most animals – get a recording of firework noises, and play it very softly (so it’s only just audible). When they are calm, relaxed, and showing no signs of fear, give them a reward – for example, a treat, a fuss, or a favourite toy. This way, you are rewarding being relaxed! Then, over time, gradually increase the volume – this will take weeks or months, but is the most effective way forward.
A very few individuals have such exaggerated fear reactions that this isn’t possible – they are so “phobic” that even the quietest volume triggers a full-blown fear reaction. For these, we strongly recommend seeing a good, professional and well-qualified pet behaviourist – we can recommend or refer you to one if needed.
Medium-Term (weeks ahead)
Now’s the time to start using calmers – we strongly recommend Adaptil for dogs (spray, diffuser and/or collar), or Feliway for cats (spray or diffuser). These are synthetic versions of natural chemical signals dogs and cats use to communicate with each other, and a proven to reduce anxiety and fear.
It may also be worth using a nutraceutical calmer, such as Zylkene – while the jury is still out on how effective it is, it does seem to be really helpful for some dogs and cats. This is based on milk protein which is digested in the body into a natural valium-like chemical.
Sadly, there are no scientifically proven calming products for rabbits (yet…).
Nearly There… (days in advance)
This is when you should start building dens for your pets – somewhere safe to hide away when the fireworks start. For dogs, a cage or crate covered in a duvet or blanket (to make it dark and hidden and safe) is ideal, with their blankets or bedding inside (so it smells like home) and a nice toy perhaps too. For cats, a den should be built somewhere they naturally seek shelter – typically somewhere high up. The same rules for construction apply, although it’s usually better not to put too many toys in (many cats see “home” space and “play” space as separate). In both cases, give the den a generous spray of pheromone – Adaptil for the dog, Feliway for the cat – to reinforce it’s “safe-space” credentials; and then teach them it’s a nice place to be by offering them treats in and around it.
For rabbits, they probably already have a “den” or nest-area in their hutch or run, but if not, put one in place now. Make sure it has nice clean, soft bedding. The same applies for other small pets such as guinea pigs or chinchillas; for rats, hamsters etc, you’re best just bulking up and cleaning their existing bedding so they can burrow down deeply and hide away. For all these, though, if possible move their hutch, house or run into the house, or garage, or even a shed – somewhere that the noises won’t be so loud, and the lights not so bright.
If you have cage or aviary birds, this is also the time when you should be covering the cage or aviary with blankets or other soft absorbent material, to muffle the sounds and keep the flashes of lights out – light and sound together can trigger a panic, leading potentially to injury, or even a smother. Of course, make sure it’s folded back in daytime to allow the light in, but closed over well before dusk.
If your pet has shown violent and uncontrolled fear in the past, bring them in to see us so that our vets can prescribe some potent anti-anxiety medications. It’s also worth making sure their microchip or other ID details are up to date in case they escape and get lost.
On The Night
There are four basic rules for Fireworks night – and it’s VITAL that you follow them!
- Keep all your pets safely indoors after dark. Securely close all doors, windows, cat flaps etc – a frightened animal may run away in a panic, and then they’re at risk of being hit by a car or becoming lost and unable to find their way home.
- Keep curtains shut and the television, radio or music on – to muffle the nasty noises from outside.
- Distract them if possible with toys or treats, but don’t push it – don’t punish or reward signs of fear.
- Stay calm yourself! If you’re anxious or stressed, your pet will pick up on that!
If your pet is afraid of fireworks, whatever species they may be, give us a ring for personalised advice on how best to help them as an individual.