Bonfire night may still be a few weeks away, but with PDSA’s recent Animal Wellbeing Report revealing that over 9 million cats and dogs suffer fear and anxiety due to fireworks, some early planning could make all the difference.
PDSA Senior Veterinary Surgeon, Sean Wensley, says: “Many people don’t seek help for their pets’ fears, perhaps believing nothing can be done. But with a little preparation, owners can make a big difference in minimising the anxiety that many pets suffer during the fireworks season.”
To help owners, PDSA has produced a ‘pet firework guide’ to ensure pets stay safe and calm when fireworks are going off over the coming weeks.
- A few weeks before the season starts, make a cosy den for your pet with blankets, pillows and cushions. For dogs this could be behind a sofa or inside a wardrobe, whilst cats feel more secure when high up so a cat bed safely placed on an accessible shelf or cupboard may be better.
- Reward your pet when they spend time in the den to help build a positive association, so it will then be a reassuring place to hide if they get scared.
- Start using pheromones near to the den – calming scents available as plug-ins or sprays that we can’t smell, but that can help to reduce anxiety in pets.
- Get your pet microchipped, so if they do panic and manage to run away, you are much more likely to be reunited.
On the night
- ·Never take your pet to a fireworks display, and walk dogs early before fireworks start.
- ·Bring in any outdoor pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs and give them extra bedding to hide in so they feel safe.
- ·Keep all doors, windows, cat flaps and curtains closed, and play music with a repetitive beat to help mask the noises.
- ·If your pet gets scared, act normally and ignore the fireworks and any fearful behaviour. Even though it is tempting to reassure them, this will just reinforce their fear and teach them that it is the appropriate response.
- ·Allow your pet to hide in the den, or somewhere else if they prefer, but don’t try to coax them out. This is a place they feel safe and allows them to take control of the situation.
- ·Don’t pick up or restrain a cat that is scared, as cats prefer to control how they cope.
Owners should be aware of signs of stress. Dogs may tremble, pace, pant and become ‘clingy’, while cats may try to hide behind furniture, or attempt to run away. Both dogs and cats may refuse to eat and may soil the house because of firework-related stress. Rabbits may freeze and remain motionless, or may panic and try to escape their hutches.
Sean continues: “It is worth imagining what Bonfire Night must be like for our pets – we know why there are lots of loud bangs outside, but our pets don’t, which is very distressing for them. Many of our pets have very acute hearing, so the range of sounds adding to their anxiety may also be greater than we can appreciate.”
If your pet is very fearful, ask your vet about long-term behavioural therapy. This can take weeks or months, but with time and patience it teaches noise-phobic pets that loud noises are nothing to be scared of. These evidence-based behavioural techniques can achieve excellent results to improve your pet’s quality of life.
For further information owners can download a free copy of PDSA’s Fireworks and Your Pet leaflet at www.pdsa.org.uk/leaflets.