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Help, My Pet Hates Fireworks!

As the dreaded (for some) firework season approaches, being proactive is far better than reactive when helping your pet through this period. Find out what you can do to help your pet, as well as the help you can get from your vet, in this week’s blog!


If your pet is showing these symptoms during the firework season, they might be afraid of fireworks:


Dogs:

  • Trembling and shaking

  • More clingy than normal

  • Excessive barking or vocalisation

  • Cowering and hiding

  • Trying to run away

  • Not wanting to go on their walk or outside

  • Going to the toilet in the house

  • Pacing and panting

  • Refusing to eat

  • Destructive behaviour (chewing furniture etc.)

Cats:

  • Cowering and hiding

  • Trying to run away

  • Not wanting to go out or ‘darting’ back into the home

  • Inappropriately toileting around the house

  • Refusing to eat

Rabbits:

  • Stamping hind feet

  • Staying motionless

  • Trying to escape

  • Dashing around in their hutch

  • Aggression

  • Eating less

A proactive response is far better than a reactive one. While the firework season is almost upon us, you can do many things to help reduce your pet's fear of fireworks and loud noises.

What should I do to keep my cat or dog calm during fireworks?

  • Take your dog for a walk before it gets dark, well before fireworks are due to begin, to avoid scaring your dog. If it is dark and your pet hates fireworks, play games inside rather than risking taking them out in the dark when fireworks may go off. Check our blog on playing with your dog for top tips on indoor play.

  • Don’t pick up cats or restrain them if they are scared: cats prefer to control how they cope.

  • Get your cat into the routine of being fed earlier (before it gets dark) so they are home and indoors overnight.

  • Keep doors, windows and cat and dog flaps closed.

  • Draw the curtains and play music with a repetitive beat to help mask the sounds.

  • If your pet prefers to go away and hide, let them. Leave them alone – this is your pet's way of coping and overly trying to comfort them or coaxing them out can make them more afraid. Give them places where they can hide, such as building a dog den so they feel safe and secure.

  • If your pet seeks reassurance from you in stressful times, comfort them as you would normally.

  • Stay calm. Keep your tone, mood and behaviour as normal as possible. If you get very anxious or comfort your pet more than usual, this can make your pet more unsettled.

  • Never punish your pets. It’s not their fault they’re scared, and it adds to their anxiety.

  • Get your pet microchipped and ensure your details are up to date - if they run away from home, there is more chance you will be reunited. Check out our microchip blog for more details.

  • Feed a calming pet food or supplement to help manage your pet’s stress and anxiety

  • Creating a soundtrack to disguise the whizzes and bangs can really help to keep your pet calm, some people feel classical music is ideal for this but any banging beat will do!

  • If you want to keep your cat distracted, you can build on this with enrichment activities. Check out our Enrichment Tips for Cats blog for more information.



How to help small pets and wildlife during fireworks

  • Cover hutches and outdoor cages with thick blankets, before it gets dark so they’re more sound-proofed but well-ventilated. If your rabbits or guinea pigs live outdoors, then it's a good idea to move the hutch into a garage, unheated room or shed a few nights before fireworks are expected.

  • Make sure your pets have hiding places and secure areas where they can feel safe.

  • Remove anything from the hutch that they can hurt themselves on.

  • Sprinkle food and their favourite fresh treats and good quality hay in their bedding area so they have access to food if they are too scared to venture out into larger areas of their home.

  • Feed high-fibre foods regularly and before it gets dark, as this gives good gut function and can help their tummy to stay nice and comfortable if they are too scared to eat for a short period of time. (If your rabbit or guinea pig stops eating you must contact your vet immediately for emergency advice).

  • Give plenty of bedding – this helps keep noise out and provides a hiding place.

  • Ensure the bonfire is nowhere near any pets and smoke isn’t drifting towards hutches.

  • Hedgehogs find unlit bonfires a great place to sleep. So build any bonfires as close as possible to the day of the event, and check thoroughly before lighting to let any wildlife escape.



Pheromones

Get a pheromone plug-in such as Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats and rabbits (yes rabbits too!). Pheromone plugins release a smell similar to the pheromone released from their mum when they were feeding, so it’s naturally appealing, but we can't smell them. There are also pheromone collars for dogs (Adaptil) that give your dog a halo of calm when out and about.




Get a vet check!

It is really important to check your pet to ensure there isn't a medical reason for their stress, such as pain or an underlying disease. If a pet suddenly develops a fear or phobia, always get them checked by your vet in case there are additional reasons for the fear that has caused the reaction. For example, an arthritic pet jumps up at the same time that they hear the ‘bang’ causing them to experience pain which they then associate with the noise so they react every time they hear it.



Behavioural therapy

Behavioural therapy tends to be 'desensitisation and counter-conditioning. Over time, this teaches your pet that they don't need to be afraid of loud noises. A really great behavioural therapy you can do at home is a desensitisation CD. Getting them used to the noises in a controlled way is a great therapy for pets. You start at the lowest possible volumes and gradually increase the volume and duration of sounds each day over several weeks. Rewarding and praising any calm behaviours, if you see anxiety you stop immediately and take it back to the previous volume – only progress when they are calm and able to - baby steps all the way!


If your pet is very reactive to fireworks your vet may suggest a referral to an accredited APBC pet behaviourist.


To sedate or not sedate, that is the question!

Owners sometimes ask vets to sedate their pets. Sedatives, a once popular treatment for fireworks, are no longer used because they don't take away the fear, just the pet's ability to respond: Imagine being stuck when something terrifying is happening and you cannot move. This then results in the phobia getting worse over time.


Don’t fret - there are products licensed for use with fireworks phobias that may help to reduce anxiety without just sedating pets. Many of these treatments need to be prescribed by your vet in advance of an event as they need to build up in your pet's system and they may remain on that medication throughout the firework season, so it is really important that you see your vet sooner rather than later if your pet has a firework phobia.


Book an appointment with one of our vets today to prepare for the firework season!


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