Once upon a time Fireworks Night lasted for just two or three nights. However nowadays it seems to last from mid-October until way past New Year’s Eve, with fireworks of all shapes and sizes, colours and noises, and all seemingly very readily available.
This usually means a lot of fun for us humans but if you’re an animal – either pet or wildlife – stress caused by fireworks can be extremely harmful, and even lead to development of long-term behavioural problems and phobias.
But as the time period for fireworks has increased so has our scientific knowledge of animal behaviour, resulting in better advice, as well as safe pet products widely available to us.
So here are a few handy tips to help you safeguard all animals and help them cope with what can be a very noisy and distressing period, often resulting in signs of anxiety, including shaking, crying, hiding, panting, restlessness, and/or appearing very flat band non-responsive, both mentally and physically.
Please feel free to share these tips far and wide to help more animals and owners remain stress-free:
• Acclimatise your dog to noises prior to the big night; with many noise CDs and downloads available giving you opportunities to introduce your pooch to a variety of potentially disturbing noises in a controlled manner.
• Make a safe den for your dog to retreat to if he/she feels scared e.g. crate.
• Alternatively, let your dog take refuge under furniture and include an old, unwashed piece of clothing e.g.woolly jumper so that your dog can smell your scent and feel comfortable.
• Distract your dog from the noise by having your TV or the radio switched on louder than usual.
• Try to act and behave as normal, as your dog will pick up on any odd behaviour.
• Remain calm, happy, and cheerful as this will send positive signals to your dog.
• Reward calm behaviour with doggy treats or playing with favourite toys.
• Check where and when displays are being held in your local area; also remember to ask your neighbours if they’re planning anything.
• Consult your vet for calming medications including pheromone sprays/plug ins, calming gels/tablets; and please always ask before giving natural remedies, making sure you always follow manufacturer’s instructions.
• Consider seeking help from an experienced qualified animal behaviourist, especially if your pet is severely phobic.
• Feed your dog well before you expect any disturbances, as once the fireworks start your dog may be too anxious to eat; feeding a large meal can often calm them down and help them sleep too – much like us.
• Walk your dog long before dusk, as it may be hours before it’s safe to venture outside again for your dog to relieve himself.
• Make sure you shut all doors and windows in your home and don’t forget to draw curtains; this will help to block out any scary flashes of light and reduce noise levels of fireworks; don’t forget to block off cat flaps to stop smaller dogs (and cats!) escaping.
• Shut your dog safely inside a room before opening the front door.
• Keep a collar and ID tag on your dog, just in case they do accidentally escape, and always make sure your dog is microchipped too, it’s now the law and if he or she does escape without a collar on this will ensure you are reunited as quickly as possible.
• Take your dog along to a firework display however tempting, even if your dog does not bark or whimper, don’t assume he or she is happy; excessive yawning and panting can often indicate your dog is severely stressed.
• Tie your dog up anywhere outside while fireworks are being let off.
• Assume your garden is escape proof; if your dog needs to go out keep him/her on a tight lead, just in case.
• Shut your dog on his/her own or in a separate room from you.
• Punish your dog for being scared or try forcing your dog to face their fears – they’ll more likely just become more frightened.
• Forget to top up water bowls as anxious dogs usually pant excessively and get more thirsty.
• Change routines more than necessary, as this can be stressful for some dogs.
• Try and comfort your dog if they become distressed, as this can often make the behaviour worse.
Fireworks season can be a nightmare for cats leading to a variety of behavioural problems including house soiling, excessive grooming, even aggression, so here are some tips to help keep your feline friend fearless from fireworks:
• Keep your cat indoors after dark and provide him/her with a litter tray if used to having garden access only.
• Try to reduce outside noise and bright flashing lights by keeping windows shut and curtains drawn.
• Play soothing music or make sure TV/radio is turned up.
• In order to feel secure cats need to be settled in cosy, familiar territory such as a comfy bed or favourite chair.
• Cats that are known to be skittish, sensitive or new to a home, will be particularly vulnerable to firework noise and could panic and run away; make sure doors and windows are securely fastened and your cat is microchipped.
• Ask your vet for calming medications and/or pheromone plug-in diffusers or sprays.
Small Pet & Bird Owners
Birds and small pets like rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, mice and ferrets are easily frightened by fireworks; so here are some tips to help keep them safe:
• Bring their hutches/cages indoors – into a quiet room, garage, or shed.
• If you can’t bring them inside, turn their enclosure round so they face a wall or fence instead of open garden.
• Give them loads more extra bedding to burrow into so they feel safe.
• Cover any aviaries/hutches with thick blankets or a duvet to block out the sound of the bangs and sight of fireworks, making sure there’s enough ventilation.
Horse & Pony Owners
• Try to make sure fireworks aren’t set off near your horse’s field or stable – tell neighbours and local fireworks display organisers that there are horses nearby.
• Keep your horse in a familiar environment and a normal routine with companions to make them feel secure. If they’re normally out in the field, keep them there as long as it’s safe, secure and not near the fireworks display area.
• If you know your horse reacts badly to loud noises, it might be worth speaking to your vet or considering moving them for a night.
• Try to stay calm and positive as horses can sense your unease.
• Don’t try to get in the way if your horse gets frightened as you may get hurt.
General Precautions for Wildlife & Animal Safety
• Buying hand-held cascading fireworks is better than noise-making varieties.
• Keeping fireworks and bonfires as far away from homes as possible, to minimize any adverse effects on animals indoors; remember this does not mean that other wild animals will not be affected.
• Always check bonfires before lighting them to ensure that no small animals e.g. hedgehogs are sleeping inside.