Do fireworks put your pets in a fizz?
Remember, remember your pets this November
Much as we hate to admit it, we've reached that time of year when the weather takes a turn for the worse, the central heating kicks in and we dig out those jumpers from the back of the wardrobe and we might even light the fire!
We're now really close to Halloween, which although can be a lot of fun for our children, can be a scary time for some of our pets. This is closely followed by bonfire night and the loud bangs and flashing lights that are fireworks!
When Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament with gunpowder in 1605, little did they realise their actions would have such an impact on animal welfare more than 400 years later.
If you have a pet that becomes scared during this time, NOW is the time to take action.
Firstly, we recommend calming supplements or anti-anxiety pheromones – Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats. These are gentle and effective and help them feel calmer and more relaxed. You can purchase collars, sprays and plug-ins (all available to buy at Hillside) which release pheromones that only they can detect. For these to have the greatest effect, it’s best to start using them earlier rather than later. That’s why now is the ideal time.
So, that’s the pre-fireworks preparation, but what about on the night when you know fireworks are going to be going off?
Here’s our tips to help make your pet as calm and comfortable during this time as possible:
- On the evenings that you expect fireworks to be going off it’s important to walk your dog early and then ensure they’ve been out for the toilet before the fireworks are likely to start – in other words much earlier than normal.
- Feed your dog a meal that is high in carbohydrates, such as pasta, two to three hours before you expect the fireworks to start. This can have the effect of making them a bit sleepy and so more likely to settle during the evening.
- Keep your dog inside at all times whilst fireworks are being set off, and ensure all doors and windows are secure well before dark to prevent any sudden escape.
- Your pet should be microchipped. If they aren’t, we strongly recommend this as it’s the only way to ensure you are reunited with your pet should they go missing. You can read more about microchipping your pet here. If they do get out, frightened, confused animals can easily get lost and disorientated and a microchip ensures it’s much easier to reunite you. It’s important too, to make sure your contact details are up-to-date. Do this now!
- We do not advise punishing your dog (or cat) for being scared during the fireworks. This will only confirm to them that there is indeed something to be afraid of. Our best advice is to act normal – as if nothing unusual is happening. If you normally pet and play with your pet at this time of night, do so. Remain calm and unconcerned. Do not tightly cuddle or restrain your dog, or try to encourage it to you if it has retreated to its den/bunker.
- Drawing the curtains/blinds will help to block out the noise and flashes from outside.
- Playing music with a rhythmic bass beat can help to disguise the sound of fireworks, but this should only be used if your pet is used to music being played in the house. Classical music is usually the best choice, but playing white noise can also help – this can be found at http://simplynoise.com. Alternatively, turning the television on can also help to mask the sounds from outside.
- Other household sounds are good too – put the washing machine on, or hoover the lounge – normal day-to-day noises will make your pet feel calmer as well as masking the sound of the bangs outside.
- Provide your dog with something to chew as this can help to lessen anxiety.
- If your dog is only mildly nervous, playing games to distract him from the fireworks may help. However, it’s important not to force him to play if he doesn’t want to.
- There is evidence showing that gentle constant pressure applied to the torso can have a calming effect on animals (like the effect of swaddling a baby). You can buy specially designed coats/t-shirts that are close fitting and can help relieve your dog’s anxiety. If you would like to know more about these, please speak to our Head Nurse, Helen.
- We now know that it is best to interact with your pet as you usually would, but to remain calm and unconcerned. Do not tightly cuddle or restrain your dog, or try to encourage it to you if it has retreated to its den/bunker. Cats are best left to do their own thing and certainly don't try to restrain them against their will.
- For cats, providing them with lots of different places to hide out in, particularly if you have more than one cat, will comfort them. And don’t forget the litter trays!
- If possible, stay in whilst fireworks are going off as your dog and/or cat is likely to be more settled if he is not left on his own.
- Make a den or bunker for your dog – this will help them with feelings of anxiety and be a place where they feel safe and secure. Let them stay there for as long as they want.
How to prepare a den or bunker for your dog
A lot of dogs will try to hide when they are scared, so it’s important to provide them with somewhere safe to retreat to during the firework season.
This should be a semi-enclosed area that your dog can easily escape from if he is worried, ideally away from doors and windows – under stair cupboards or behind furniture can be ideal, or a covered crate can be used if your dog is used to one.
However, if there is a place that your dog already chooses to hide in then this is where you should set up the den. He must be allowed access to this area at all times during the fireworks season.
The den should be made as comfortable as possible for them including their own bed and blankets they can hide under should they wish. If possible, this bedding should have your scent on it as this is likely to help comfort your dog – you can do this by placing it in the dirty washing basket for a few days before it needs to be used.
Ideally, the den should be set up a few weeks before you think that the fireworks are likely to start (so now is a good time) so that your dog has time to get used to it. You can encourage him to use it by hiding food treats or toys there.
It’s important though not to force your dog into the den and if he decides to hide somewhere else, leave him there as this is where he feels safest.
We recommend using a plug-in Adaptil diffuser at floor level as close to the den area as possible. This is just like a normal plug-in air freshener and gives off an artificial version of a pheromone produced by bitches to calm their puppies. It’s effective on dogs of all ages. This needs to be used for at least two weeks before you expect the fireworks to begin to allow it to start to take effect, and must be kept turned on at all times during the firework season.
Other ways to help
There are also medications that can be used for very phobic dogs. These don’t sedate your dog but reduce or stop their anxiety. Some of these medications are natural/herbal remedies which have been developed to reduce your dog’s stress or anxiety. There are some which are prescription medications that can be dispensed by our vets that can stop your dog being anxious. All of these remedies/medications are best used before your dog’s anxiety starts.
Rabbits and guinea pigs can be frightened too.
Here’s some useful tips to help your smaller pets through what can be a stressful time for them:
- If possible bring their hutch inside and place it in a quiet area of the house ensuring that the windows are closed and the curtains/blinds drawn.
- If you are unable to bring the hutch inside, you could move it into a shed or garage - it's important though that the garage is not used during this time for the car – please beware of fumes!
- Putting the television or radio on can help to cover the sound of the fireworks, but make sure that it is not too loud, especially if your pets are not used to it.
- Provide lots of extra bedding to give your pet something to hide under and snuggle and bury into. Cardboard boxes can also be used as a good hiding place.
- Cover the hutch with a thick duvet or blanket as this will help to muffle the sound of the fireworks outside.
- If you are unable to bring the hutch inside, turn it around so that it is facing a wall or fence so that the flashes will be less bright.
- Double check your rabbit hutch is securely fastened so there is no danger of your bun escaping.
- Where possible, give your small furries lots of extra love and cuddles to reassure them that everything is alright.
If you have any doubts or concerns about your pet (dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs) with Halloween and Bonfire Night soon upon us, please contact us here at Hillside Vets sooner rather than later.
We can then discuss the problems/phobia in full and decide on the best preventative methods to help ensure a calm and peaceful Halloween and Bonfire Night.
Have fun and stay safe!
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