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.
Dogs: how to spot fear
Different dogs show different signs of fear. One dog may wag its tail and growl, while another may visibly shake. Keep and eye out for which signs your dog uses to show fear:
- Yawning, lip licking, paw lifting
- Hiding and finding a place to hide
- Panting and pacing
- Growling and biting
- Fluid leaking from their bottom.
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.
How to spot fear in cats
Some cats show obvious signs of fear – others are more passive and will do all they can to hide their emotions. Behaviours to watch out for include:
- Dilated/enlarged pupils
- Arched back
- Crouching gait, low carriage of tail and slow low movement
- Hair standing on end
- Hissing or low grumbling
- 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.
Fear in field animals
All field animals show these signs when in a fearful state, except poultry. Watch out for these behaviours:
- 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 turnout the following morning for any remains of fireworks
- If your animal becomes extremely anxious, speak to your vet.
Small animals: how to spot fear
Rodents and small animals each have their own way of showing signs of fear. Behaviours to watch out for include:
- 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.
- Release their scent glands
- Dart quickly under cover
- Shake their tail with body trembling
- Aggressively bite repeatedly in the same area when picked up.
- 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 a frightened small animal
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.