Fireworks: how to keep your pets safe

From Bonfire Night to New Year celebrations, every year thousands of animals suffer as a result of fireworks being let off. Below are tips on how to recognise fear in your pets, and how you can help calm them down and keep them safe.

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From Bonfire Night to New Year celebrations, every year thousands of animals suffer as a result of fireworks being let off. Below are tips on how to recognise fear in your pets, and how you can help calm them down and keep them safe.

Spotting fear and anxiety in your pets

All pets show different signs of fear. A dog might pant, pace around or shake in fear, while a cat may freeze, hide or withdraw from affection. Here are a couple of examples and what you can do to help your pet:

Dogs

Signs:

  • Yawning, lip licking, paw lifting
  • Hiding and finding a place to hide
  • Panting and pacing
  • Growling and biting
  • Shaking
  • Fluid leaking from their bottom.

Preparing your dog for fireworks:

The weeks leading up to Fireworks Night is the best time to begin your training. If your dog is young, they may not have seen or heard fireworks before, so it’s good to introduce some training to teach your dog that noises are not scary.

  • Download firework sounds and play them on a low volume while your dog is doing something they enjoy, like eating dinner or playing with their toys.
  • Vary the sound recording and providing your dog is relaxed, increase the volume over a few sessions.

Desensitisation and counter-conditioning

Desensitisation and counter-conditioning can have a big effect on reducing their anxiety. Using toys and reward-based training can increase the opportunity to  work on desensitisation and counter-conditioning multiple times a day. Remember to do some training sessions in the evening with the curtains closed, as they will be on Fireworks Night.   

How to manage a frightened dog

  • Have a place for your dog to hide
  • If your dog comes out to you, praise them for being brave
  • If your dog comes to you for reassurance, keep your voice calm. It's OK to be affectionate and soothe them
  • Make sure your dog is tired from a good walk and meal.
  • Close the curtains and put the radio or TV on for background noise
  • Give your dog a special treat or favourite chew to keep them busy
  • If your dog is displaying mild anxiety, distract them with a play or training session.

At-home therapies

There are many non-prescription therapies and supplements available for dogs who are mildly or moderately stressed by certain sounds or experiences. Some supplements on the market have research behind them, however, it’s worth checking with your vet and reading any research on these prior to purchase. There are many supplements available and we have listed a few below:

  • ADAPTIL plug ins or collars are best if used 2 weeks before the night. ”DAP” (Adaptil) is short for Dog Appeasing Pheromones.
  • YuCalm - L-Theanine Offers natural calming properties that support the production of calming compounds such as serotonin.
  • Anaxitane Chewable Tablets help pets keep calm and relaxed. They contain a pure synthetic form of L-Theanine, an amino acid naturally found in green tea leaves. 
  • Calmex - a calming supplement that helps maintain a normal disposition.

Remember to check your dog's microchip and tag details are up to date, and ensure your garden is secure before letting your dog out after dark during firework season. We would also recommend keeping your dog on the lead and making sure they are wearing a securely fitting harness if you wish to walk after dark.  Every year we have a spike in stray intakes during the firework season, the sooner an owner of a lost dog can be contacted, the better it is for pets and people! 

Cats

Signs

  • Dilated/enlarged pupils
  • Arched back
  • Crouching gait, low carriage of the tail and slow low movement
  • Hair standing on end
  • Hissing or low grumbling
  • Hiding
  • Trying to appear smaller
  • Withdrawing from your affection
  • Ears back and ‘freezing’.

How to manage a frightened cat

  • If your cat has access to outdoor space, keep them in when it gets dark
  • Close your curtains
  • Play music or put the television on to help mask the sound of fireworks
  • Try not to reassure your cat, it's much more useful to act normally
  • Make sure your cat’s favourite hiding place is accessible. Don’t check on them if they retreat there
  • Provide an indoor litter tray in a convenient location, although anxious cats often avoid toilet visits if they feel threatened
  • If your cat becomes extremely anxious, speak to your vet.

Field Animals

Signs:

  • Showing the whites of their eyes
  • Rolling of eyes
  • Licking lips, yawning and picking up food without digesting it
  • Stomping feet
  • Displaying any unnatural behaviour
  • Running with the herd.

How to manage field animals and fireworks

  • Speak to your neighbours to find out when and where fireworks displays are being held, so you can prepare
  • Keep to a normal routine, but if possible make sure your animal has been fed an hour before a display starts
  • All animals need company, whether they’re stabled or turned out
  • If you keep your animal stabled, keep a light and radio on with soothing music to help block out the noise
  • Shut all poultry away so they can roost safely
  • Check the fields before you turn out the following morning for any remains of fireworks
  • If your animal becomes extremely anxious, speak to your vet.

Small Animals

How to spot fear in small animals

Signs:

Frightened rabbits:

  • Stamp their back feet repeatedly, this can continue for several minutes and often occurs after unexpected noises or movements within the environment
  • Hide in a corner head first
  • Have wide eyes or third eyelid across
  • Breath rapidly
  • Kick and bite when picked up
  • In some cases, a bonded pair of rabbits may have a fight.

Frightened guinea pigs:

  • Dart around, running at the walls
  • Have wide eyes
  • Stiffen their body
  • Breath rapidly
  • Hide in a corner head first
  • Dig at the floor trying to cover themselves.

Frightened ferrets:

  • Release their scent glands
  • Dart quickly undercover
  • Hiss
  • Shake their tail with body trembling
  • Aggressively bite repeatedly in the same area when picked up.

Frightened rodents:

  • Hiss
  • Squeal when picked up
  • Make high pitched alert squeaks, continuing for several minutes
  • Shake their tail
  • Stamp their feet for several minutes
  • Puff up their coat and walk on ridged tip toes
  • Hide in small spaces
  • Launch an attack when your hand enters the accommodation.

How to manage frightened small animals

Small animals often find a large and sudden change of environment distressing. We recommend the following:

  • Add extra hides and bedding to their accommodation
  • Lock away outdoor pets in their night accommodation slightly earlier than normal to allow them to settle before the fireworks start
  • Provide them with their favourite healthy treats in ways that will stimulate them to forage and focus. This could include hay kebabs, paper rummage bags, stuffed toilet rolls, feed balls and activity treat boards
  • Avoid too much handling
  • Companionship is the biggest protector against fear for most small animals (not all rodents). A neutered pair of rabbits or a small group of same-sex guinea pigs are far more likely to remain in a relaxed state as their companions offer security and comfort.

Looking for more advice?

For further advice on helping your pet prepare for fireworks season, please head here. You can also find a variety of advice for dogs, cats, and small pets on our Pet Advice section. If you have a question about your pet or would like any support, contact our team here.

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