Holiday season is on the horizon although this year’s celebrations may be very different due to COVID and lockdowns. New Year’s Eve firework displays might be cancelled but people may still choose to have their own firecrackers, rockets, sparklers at home in their gardens. The loud noises and flashing lights of fireworks can be very frightening for animals especially dogs. Affected animals react very differently, from feeling anxious to panicking and trying to escape from the noise.
Here are our top tips for managing your pet
Studies have shown that dogs can develop their fear of fireworks early in their life. Breed, age, gender, origin and castration status all can have a significant influence on the severity of the fear of fireworks in dogs but there are things that pet owners can do to minimise their dog's stress levels.
First it is important to recognise if your pet is anxious around fireworks. Signs of fear include increased movement for example your dog may run backwards and forwards on hearing the loud noises, become unsettled and try to escape. Your dog may also pant heavily, shake, bark repeatedly or try to hide and some dogs may show destructive behaviour such as chewing furniture.
Experts including vets and behaviourists have developed methods to desensitise animals based on scientific studies which have proven to be effective:
- Early habituation: If you have a puppy or young dog it is important to gradually socialise them with different stimuli and situations including loud noises. This makes it easier for them as an adult dog to deal with loud noises and unusual situations, e.g. Fireworks night, New Year’s Eve.
- Desensitisation: Playing CDs of firework noises is a good way to get your dog used to loud sounds. The noises are played quietly to start with, and then louder over time, according to the sensitivity of your dog. Alternatively, films of firework displays on YouTube for example can be played to help desensitise your dog to fireworks, again using a gradual approach to help reduce any sensitivity. These methods should start several weeks and even months before a firework event.
- Going for walks: If you need to take your dog out during fireworks then it is recommended to go for walks at times when it is still relatively quiet. Practical steps should also be taken to ensure that your dog does not run away if fireworks go off during your walk. For example, it is important to ensure that your dog is microchipped (and the microchip details are up to date) so that they can be returned to you if lost. It is also important that your dog wears a collar and tag with your contact details.
- In the house: During fireworks, your dog should stay in the house. To calm your dog, it is recommended to close the curtains and put on calming music at a suitable volume to minimise the noise of the fireworks and help reduce your dog’s anxiety.
- Anti-stress jackets: So-called “calming shirts” are proven to have a calming effect on animals. Their design exerts a continual and gentle pressure on the ribcage of the dog and contributes to reducing their anxiety.
- White noise machine: These sound devices provide calming noise. Depending on the device, you can choose between rain, water fall and wind noises to help minimise the noise of the fireworks.
- In the case of stress: If your dog becomes stressed despite all precautionary measures, it is important that they can find a safe place to retreat to, such as under the bed, behind the sofa or wherever they feel most safe. If your dog is anxious it is important that they are not left on their own and that you are there to comfort them if needed.
- Conventional / alternative medicine: There are several medicines on the market that may help your dog during these times, however it is important that you seek the advice of a vet first before purchasing and administrating any treatments. If sensitivity to noise is a new thing for your dog, then it is important that your dog is examined by a vet to ensure that they are medically fit and that nothing else is causing the problem.
- Professional support: Animals that have a deep fear of fireworks and loud noises can be treated for their fears with professional help either by a vet or qualified behaviourist. A carefully developed desensitisation and counterconditioning programme, which is specifically tailored to address their fear, may help your dog overcome their anxiety.
- Preventative measures: All owners are strongly advised to have their cats microchipped. That way, if your cat manages to escape and run away despite all your precautions, there’s a better chance that you will be reunited thanks to the microchip. Even after the fireworks have passed their peak, your cat should stay indoors: experience shows that occasional fire crackers, rockets and flares can be set off well into the early hours of the morning. If there is a cat flap, it must be kept closed. To be on the safe side, all windows should be closed and you should close the curtains.
- In the home: Cats must have access to as many hiding places as possible. This means you should open doors to rooms that your cat wouldn’t normally have access to. This may include the bedroom, for instance, which could provide a hiding place in an open wardrobe.
- Calming music: Gentle, relaxing music has a soothing effect on cats. The best thing to do is to try out which music your cat reacts to in a relaxed way, (independently of any fireworks festivities) and to play it more often throughout the year.
- Give variety: Cat owners should keep their animals in a good mood. You usually know which game your house tiger loves. The game may not be forced on the cat, however.
- Pheromones: Similar to dogs, some pheromones also have a calming effect on cats.
- In case of stress: A cat showing signs of stress mustn’t be left alone. A human presence can be very comforting at this nerve-racking time. However, exaggerated emotional attention may not be helpful, even if it’s well-intentioned. If your feline friend doesn’t want to be petted to keep it calm, you should accept this. Talking to your cat too much can also be counterproductive. And as a caring owner, you shouldn’t yell at your stressed cat if it pees on the floor instead of the litter box.
Tips for small mammals – rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, etc.
Outdoor keeping: Animals that are usually kept outdoors all year should be brought into the home or some other quiet, enclosed space such as the garden shed on New Year’s Eve. If this isn’t possible, the cages must be arranged so that the bangs and flashes don’t frighten the animals. Placing thick blankets over the enclosure can be very helpful – but make sure there’s enough ventilation.
Housing: Guinea pigs, rabbits, etc. are very susceptible to stress. This means it’s even more important to keep the animals in a very quiet room during the fireworks. Noise insulation should be provided by blankets placed over the cages. Closing the curtains will also protect them from the frightening flashes. Give them an extra layer of bedding so they can hide more easily from any disturbance.
Tips for birds
Precautions: Bangs and flashes of light make birds panic. Their flight instinct will cause them to flutter about frantically in their cage, which puts them at risk of serious injury. The most calming environment for our feathered friends is a quiet room with closed curtains, blinds or shutters. The better the windows are covered, the less the birds will be troubled by the flashes of fireworks. Gentle music will also help to calm them.