Bonfire Night Advice
Bonfire night is always great fun, but for animals, it is often a frightening and stressful experience. Imagine how it feels to see flashes of light and hear booming explosions without understanding what's happening...pretty scary right?
That's how pets can feel when confronted with a firework display nearby. But don't worry, there are things you can do to keep 5th November (and the days surrounding) as calm as possible for your pet. Below, we've created a simple guide on how minimise noise and maximise comfort for dogs, cats, small animals.
Preparation - Dogs and Cats
Part of the reason dogs and cats are frightened by fireworks is due to the noise being so unfamiliar to them. To combat this, you can slowly introduce firework noise at home in the weeks leading up to bonfire night so that your pet is more accustomed to the different sounds on the day. This process is called desensitization, and whilst it may not lead to total fearlessness towards fireworks, it will certainly help to reduce stress and anxiety during a display.
Start by playing a YouTube video of a firework display at a low volume. It needs to be loud enough for your dog/cat to notice and react to the noise, but not so loud that they present a fear response (shaking, cowering, hiding). Once your pet no longer shows a response to the firework noise at a low volume, slightly increase it the next day. Continue to do so until your dog/cat is unaffected by firework noise at a realistic volume.
Create a Den
Frightened animals will often seek out a covered space to hide. Your dog or cat may already have a favourite place where they go to feel comfortable, but if they don't, you can easily create a den for them.
If your dog likes to relax in a crate, line this with extra blankets and add some new toys to make it as inviting as possible. It is also a good idea to place blankets over the top (leaving an opening for ventilation) to help block out the noise and light of fireworks. Placing an old jumper inside can also calm your dog by providing a familiar scent.
For cats, a cardboard box placed on its side makes an excellent den. Again, fill with blankets, toys and a few treats to entice your cat, and place blankets over the top to protect them from the noise.
Remember: Do not force your pet into the den, but praise them when they do go in by themselves. Also, do not let children pester your pet whilst they are in their den.
Some animals may urinate out of fear during a firework display. Make sure your prepared by scattering newspaper around the house, and provide extra litter trays for cats. If your pet does have an accident, calmly clean it up and do not punish them.
Calming Sprays and Herbal Remedies
There are sprays that promote calm and well-being in dogs and cats, which can be purchased from most pet stores and veterinary practices. Feliway for cats mimics the feel-good pheromone cats emit when they feel safe. Similarly, Adaptil for dogs imitates the pheromone produced by bitches to calm their puppies. Both products have proven very successful in providing relief during periods of stress, and are available in the form of diffusers, collars and sprays.
Herbal remedies have also proven successful, such as Zyklene, a natural product containing a milk protein that binds to special receptors in the brain, inducing calmness during stressful times
Important: If your pet is very young, old or has a medical condition, always check with a vet before using a calming spray or herbal medication.
On the Night
- Even the most sensible horses can be startled by fireworks. There are steps you can take to minimise the impact they have on your horse. Fireworks are now seen on many occasions throughout the year, but mainly bonfire night (5th November).
- Keep your horse in the same routine as he is every day and try not to change anything, unless there are real benefits to changing, such as moving further away from a firework display.
- Keep friends together, your horse will cope better with his buddies around.
- If you’re unable to be with your horse to monitor his behaviour, make sure you have a trusted and knowledgeable person who can help and that you are available at the end of the phone in the case of an emergency.
- Check for any hazards such as broken fences, foreign objects to ensure that the risk to a spooked horse is minimised.
Take your dog for a walk before it starts to get dark to avoid being outside when the fireworks start going off.
- When the fireworks begin, shut all doors and windows to muffle the noise as much as possible.
- If your dog does show signs of anxiety, leave them to it and don't fuss over them, as this will only make them think that there is something to be frightened of.
- If your dog can perform commands like ‘paw’, engage them in some training as a distraction.
- If you have an outdoor cat, call them indoors before it starts to get dark.
- Make sure doors and windows are closed to avoid your cat escaping.
- Try and engage your cat in play as a distraction.
Rabbits, hamsters and other small animals also find bonfire night stressful. You can help them feel safe by bringing outdoor cages inside your home or shed, and covering the top with a blanket to block out noise and light. Provide extra bedding for your pet to burrow into if they feel scared, as well as some extra treats to occupy them.
Despite these precautions, your pets may still show signs of fear. This is perfectly normal and you should try not to worry. If you feel they are suffering, book in with your vet to discuss medications or behavioural therapies that can help.