September is here and then the next thing we know is it will be time to get the fire on, slip on those cosy slippers and enjoy nights inside in front of the TV. It also means that Bonfire Night, Christmas and New Year are just around the corner and of course, this means FIREWORKS.
For some of our pets, this can be the scariest time of the year. There are many reasons our pets may become frightened; fireworks are usually loud and unpredictable with a huge visual stimulation. They also produce atmospheric changes with little to no warning; which for some breeds who also have heightened hearing sensitivity, can be particularly frightening.
So, to make sure you are prepared for the season ahead, we have written our top tips you can try at home, to ensure your pet has the least stressful season possible!
Is my pet scared of fireworks?
The signs we see in our pets when they are frightened can vary hugely. Some will try to locate where the noise is coming from and then move away from it to seek refuge; others will try to attack the noise, barking at windows or displaying destructive behaviours. Some will show what we consider more typical ‘fear behaviours’, such as panting, pacing, shaking, trembling, urinating or freezing.
Every dog is different, so it is important to recognise what is abnormal behaviour for your pet from past experiences, so you can try to work out the best way to help them.
How to calm your pet during fireworks
There are many ways you can help your pet; some of them need more patience and time than others. Below are a few ideas you may like to try in the run-up to the firework season.
These CDs or programs allow you to expose your dog to recordings of the sounds in a safe way, initially at a low volume and then building them up gradually. They are based on the concept that by the time the ‘firework season’ arrives, your dog will be less frightened by the real noise, having become familiar with it over the past few months. Ideally, however, they need to be started early ( 2-3 months before), so perfect timing to start now!
Dog’s Trust Sounds Scary Programme also offers you (for free!), their range of sound-based treatment www.dogstrust.org.uk/help-advice/dog-behaviour-health/sound-therapy-for-pets. They also have a guidance booklet you can refer to, to work though the sounds with your pet to ensure you are getting the most out of the programme.
For dogs that like to hide, creating a safe den is a great idea. This can be useful in general day-to-day life as well; giving dogs or cats a safe space they can relax and feel safe in, meaning there is somewhere they can go when they feel scared. Using it regularly means they are more likely to use it in a firework situation. If you are creating a den for fireworks season only, try to make sure it’s somewhere your pet would usually go; is cosy with blankets or a duvet and most importantly, is somewhere where outside sounds are muffled and ideally has limited or small windows, so visual effects are limited.
It’s important to remember that these places should never be used as a punishment and your pet should be able to move in and out of the space freely, as and when they like. To reinforce the ‘den’ as a pleasant experience, there are a few extra things you may like to try:
- Using feeding toys to surprise them with a treat.
- Praising them if they chose to enter the area on their own accord.
- Playing music can also help, which would be most beneficial if trialled before fireworks night for familiarity.
- If your pet is particularly bonded to you and your family, try adding an item of your clothing to the den area, as your scent can offer reassurance and comfort.
Plug-in’s, such as Adaptil, contain a synthetic pheromone, clinically proven to calm your pet, which can be useful in helping pets who become distressed by loud noises e.g. fireworks. Mother dogs communicate with their puppies using natural ‘comforting messages’ released from the mammary zone. The pheromones within the plug-ins are designed to simulate the same effect providing a strong signal of comfort and security, in turn calming your pet.
These can take time to build up in the environment, so would be more beneficial introducing from mid-October. As well as the plug-in, there is a spray or collar that can be used. These can help for the firework season but are also useful to use in conjunction with the Desensitisation training mentioned above.
Pet Remedy is a herbal product available for pets and is a unique treatment of Valerian, blended with Vetiver, Sweet Basil & Clary Sage which promotes relaxation but is non-sedating. The blend of essential oils works alongside the natural relaxation pathways to help calm the nerves of anxious or stressed pets. It is available in various forms such as a spray, diffuser, wipe or battery atomiser. We again would recommend for maximum benefit that this is used from Mid October.
Finally, there are also a number of supplements, such as Calmex, Yucalm and Zylkene all, especially for stressed or anxious dogs. These supplements are designed to promote relaxed behaviour in pets who may be experiencing behavioural problems as a result of their environment.
Please do chat to one of our team who will be able to recommend what will be best for your pet.
The fireworks season begins!
So you have done your preparation and it’s time for the season to start. We generally have a good idea of when fireworks will be ‘let off’ with the most predictable times being Bonfire Night or New Years Eve, but it’s also a good idea to check times and dates of any large local displays, or to check in with your neighbours in case they are having any garden displays.
Here are a few extra tips you may like to consider on the actual day:
- Walk your dog earlier during daylight hours, to reduce any risk of being caught outside
- When the evening arrives, close your curtains as soon as it’s dark.
- Make sure your pet’s microchip is working, details are up to date and they are wearing a collar with a tag just in case your pet has the opportunity to escape. Similarly for cats, make sure they are indoors with their litter tray, with the cat flaps locked or blocked to stop your cat going outside.
- If you are concerned your garden isn’t completely secure, maybe try using a lead to take your dog out to toilet for safety and peace of mind. If your cat toilets inappropriately during fireworks season, just be mindful it can be due to fright and inaccessibility of normal routines.
- Scatter feed your pet to distract them and feed earlier; pets are unlikely to eat when they are scared. If your cat has been hiding away for a long time then place food nearby and water.
If your pet seeks comfort from you, enjoy those extra cuddles and just stay calm and quiet when you do. Equally, if your pet chooses to use their den and hideaway, rest assured this is where they may feel safest and content so maybe best left alone to not unsettle them further.
Small Furries…we wouldn’t forget you!
Finally, we can not forget about our small furry friends that live outside. If you can, bringing their hutch/home inside is the ideal option. Where this may not be possible, maybe try using blankets to cover the hutch and muffle the noise; relocate it to a garage or shed; or move the hutch so it is facing the wall/fence to block out the bright lights. You could also provide lots of extra bedding so they can burrow and hide, or maybe try an old box as a new hiding place!
The most important thing for all our pets is that they need to feel safe, but this can be a process! We are always here to help you so please call to speak to one of the nurses if you would like any advice or to talk through your options!