It is the time of year when animals are exposed to fireworks and firecrackers. Fireworks are being used more and more as a way for us to celebrate; they are now commonplace at birthday parties, Christmas celebrations and New Years celebrations. While we may enjoy the brightly coloured flashes and loud sounds, unfortunately most of our pets don’t appreciate the noise with quite the same enthusiasm. They have extra sensitive hearing and can find this time of year extremely stressful, even traumatic.
Some animals cope with fireworks and other loud noises fine but a lot of the animals I have treated are terrified. Your pet will behave in the way its species would behave if in the wild… horses will run, cats usually like to climb up high, dogs like to bark and howl. Respect them for their ‘coping’ mechanisms. Knowing your pet and how they react is key to having a happy well-balanced pet during the fireworks celebration.
Signs of stress are:
- Excessive grooming
- Marking the home
- Running away
- Over excited
- Running in circles
- Scratching at the furniture excessively
Having a plan as to how you are going to protect your animal from the loud noises and flashes, will offer the best support for your animal. If it is possible, try to obtain a recording or video of fireworks. Start playing it on the lowest sound level; this is called desensitization, which is a process whereby you introduce your animal to the sound of the fireworks. To desensitise your animal watch for the reaction of your animal and turn off immediately if you notice that your animal is stressed. Gradually over a few weeks, increase the sound level and frequency of the recording or video. Do not rush the process as you will over stress your animal, always be guided by them. It is good to distract them with a game or a treat.
Here are some simple tips to help your animals get through the next couple of months:
- Start giving Bach Flower Rescue Remedy about 7 days before the fireworks celebration. This is easily purchased from any shop.
- Keep your pets indoors and provide them with a den where they can feel safe.
- Turn the TV up or play music. Classical music is by far the most soothing and can camouflage the outside sounds. Close the curtains. Bring rabbits and guinea pigs in from outside and place them in a safe place. Give them extra bedding to burrow in.
- Make sure doors and windows are securely shut, this is very important as it ensures your animal will not run off. Make sure your animal has been micro-chipped or at the very least name tagged.
- Try not to reinforce fearful behaviour when they are anxious, animals are very sensitive and can pick up on our own anxiety. If you treat your animal like a human baby smothering them with cuddles, embraces and nuzzles when they are scared, you are reinforcing their fearful behaviour, which makes them feel worse.
- Allow them to hide in a bolthole, if needed. This is a natural response to something that they would be scared of. Don’t coax your cat out of their hiding place. They will emerge in their own time.
- Distract them with a game of some kind, new toys or chews so they are not focused on the sound of the fireworks.
- Walk your dog in the daylight and make sure that they go to the toilet before and after the fireworks. Supply a litter tray for your cat.
If you really must get fireworks:
- Do not let fireworks off near your pet
- Keep fireworks as far away from the home as possible
- Buy silent fireworks – yes! they do exist
- Buy handheld cascade fireworks
- Go to a local display
It is very important to check your bonfires before starting them as small animals, particularly hedgehogs, like to seek refuge in leaves as they tend to hibernate.
We as owners have a huge responsibility to provide a safe and stress free environment for our animals. We have a duty where possible to ensure that our animals from an early age have been socialised to as many experiences as possible during their day-to-day lives.