While fireworks displays can really brighten up an autumn evening for us, for our cats, they can be really, really stressful! Unfortunately, the way a cat responds to sudden fear is all too often to run away and hide – but in a busy city, running away from home can result in becoming lost, attacked by other cats or dogs, or having an accident on a road. In this blog, we’re going to look at how we can help our cats to cope with the scary noises outside, and how to keep them safe when the rockets do fly.
How do cats respond to fireworks?
It does, of course, depend on just how scared they are. If the fireworks are totally unexpected, very close or very loud, then panic sets in. The cat may:
- Try to hide – for example, under furniture, or in a cupboard, anywhere where they think the scary “monsters” outside can’t find them.
- Attempt to escape by climbing to a high, safe place where the “monsters” can’t follow. Typically this might be up the curtains, or onto shelves, or into the loft – even up the chimney in some cases.
- A cat running in a blind panic just keeps going, and easily gets lost, attacked, or hit by a vehicle.
Less severe fear usually shows itself as signs of stress or anxiety. These may include:
- Spending more time safe, hidden places.
- Urine spraying and leaving faeces around – often near doors and windows.
- Reduced time playing or socialising.
- Overgrooming (this can sometimes be mistaken for a flea allergy, and can also cause hairballs).
How can we help them be less afraid?
The best approach is to teach them that firework noises aren’t anything to be afraid of. There are two components to this – desensitisation and counter-conditioning, but the best results are usually from doing both together. As early as possible (i.e. NOW!) get a series of audio-clips of scary firework noises. We can supply a CD, or you can download them – it really doesn’t matter where you get them from. Then start playing them at a very low volume. If the cat ignores the noises, or responds in a non-fearful way, give him or her a favourite treat (tuna, prawns, cheese, whatever it is they really love!). The next night, turn up the volume by one click ONLY and repeat the exercise. Before long, they’ll come to associate fireworks with treats (and then you’ve only got to worry about them raiding the fridge on fireworks night!).
Using pheromones to reduce their overall anxiety levels is also invaluable – we recommend using Feliway, which is a synthetic version of Feline Facial Pheromone, and reassures them that they are safe, in their own territory, and not under any imminent threat.
There are other products available that may also help – the milk-protein tablets Zylkene are widely used to reduce anxiety. Unfortunately there haven’t been many good studies into their effectiveness, however, they may be worth trialling as part of a programme for reducing total stress levels.
Is there any way to help keep them safe during the fireworks season?
Ultimately, the best thing you can do if your cat is still scared is to minimise the harm they can come to.
The most important single intervention is to keep them inside when fireworks are expected. In fact, in an urban environment, it’s often good practice to keep cats indoors overnight anyway if possible – most cat fights and road accidents seem to happen during the hours of darkness. So get them used to coming in for a meal, and then staying in overnight, making sure all the doors and windows are firmly shut (to prevent escapes, but also to keep the noise outside). If they’re indoors, they can’t get lost, or hit by a car, or into a fight with a dog – they are much, much safer.
They can still get afraid though, so make sure you provide them with a suitable den that they can retreat to – a comfortable nest, hidden away, and ideally in the quietest spot in the house. Some cats prefer to be raised up, so you could put a cat basket, lined with comfy blankets, on a worksurface, for instance; but your cat will let you know where they feel safest!
Finally, try as far as possible to stick to your normal routine, and not to make an excessive fuss of them – any change in routine might only make things worse by making them feel less safe in the house.
If you need more advice, please feel free to give us a ring – our vets will be more than happy to advise and help you and your cat.