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Help your pet around fireworks

We’re almost back to that time of year again: fireworks. Each year there seem to be more and longer displays, often spreading over many days too, with louder bangs year on year. 

Research states that between half and two thirds of our pets are scared of fireworks. Sadly firework noise is almost impossible to avoid, but we can make it easier for our pets.

Try to work out when your dog or cat is afraid. He or she most likely will be displaying stress signals. 

Common Stress Signals in Dogs

  • Lip licking
  • Panting
  • Yawning
  • More or less movement than usual
  • Shaking or trembling 
  • Toileting in the house
  • Unable to take treats
  • Head turning away
  • Visible whites of the eye
  • Hiding 
  • Seeing out other dogs or humans, clinginess 
  • Barking or whining
  • Vomiting
  • Freezing
  • Aggressive behaviours 

Common Stress Signals in Cats

  • Hiding
  • Toileting in the house
  • Meowing
  • Unable to take treats
  • More or less movement than usual
  • Aggressive behaviours

Preparation is key to helping your animal

You can begin to play a fireworks sound now, before the season really starts on a computer at very low volume while feeding the dogs treats. This can help desensitise the dog to the sound. Increase the volume very slowly (over weeks or months) and don’t let the dog get stressed by moving too quickly! However, it is worth noting that sometimes it is the smell of gunpowder that can upset a dog alongside the noises and lights. This is much harder to desensitise! 

Puzzle feeders, Kongs and Lickimats can really help, if your dog is able to eat (some dogs will be too stressed for this, so don’t pressure them if it’s too much!). It is worth introducing these a while before the event, so the dog is prepared and excited. 

Some dogs calm down with a natural plug in, scent spray or similar, such as Pet Remedy or Calmex can really help, or pheromone plug ins such as Adaptil or Feliway. 

In extreme cases, the vet can help medicate your dog, but this should only be done by prescription, following a consultation with the vet. 

Some dogs find a snood or thunder vest comforting.

On the day itself 

If you know there will be a fireworks display, make sure you take your dog out for a walk before it gets dark, and have a safe space for the dog or cat to hide. Make sure your dog is wearing a tag just in case. Shut all doors and windows, and close as many curtains as you can. Turn on a television or radio fairly loud. Keep cats and dogs indoors in your home during fireworks hours.

Contrary to popular belief, if your dog is scared, it is helpful to comfort them by stroking if the dog seeks interaction, but acting calmly and un-phased by the fireworks. Dogs do pick up on their owners’ stress, so acting like everything is normal is the best way. However, the argument that comforting dogs by stroking them reinforces the fear is untrue, as you cannot reinforce a natural emotion, only the behaviours. 

However, note that some dogs and cats will not want interaction, and would feel safer hiding on their own. This is okay too, let them hide under their favourite blanket, maybe wear a Thundershirt or socks around their head over their ears (which surprisingly does help!)

Even if your animal is destructive, or toilets in the house, or acts in other undesirable ways, try not to punish them or get angry, as the behaviours are a result of stress, and they really can’t help it.  

Even after the bangs have stopped, we recommend taking your dogs out on lead to the garden if you take them out to toilet, as the smell lingers for a while, and the dog’s stress levels will still be raised, which can make them more likely to escape. 

Dogs pant when stressed, which may make them thirsty. Make sure you have a topped up water bowl that they can freely access inside the house.

Finally, please do not take your dogs to any displays. Even if the dog does not bark or whine, it could be showing stress signals like panting or yawning, or even as subtle as head turns or lip licks. Please also do not leave your dog or cat alone, as this can make them much more stressed.