It is estimated that approximately 45% of dogs get stressed and fearful when fireworks are going off, yet many owners are unaware of how to help their pets with firework fears and the precautions that can be taken to help them cope with their fear of loud noises. Ideally, dogs with sound sensitivities should receive a long term behaviour modification plan, including desensitisation and counterconditioning, which should be started once the firework period is over (ideally in February/March time). However, many people either don’t realise that their dog gets stressed with fireworks, or they leave it too late to implement a plan like this, so below are a few tips to minimise the stress for your pets.
1) It is important to prepare about a month or so in advance of the firework season if your dog or cat has a phobia of fireworks. For dogs, building them a den in advance can provide them with a ‘safe place’ for them to go to when the fireworks start: this can be in an area that the dog already uses e.g. behind the sofa, and should be set up as far in advance of the fireworks as possible (the longer your dog has been using the den, the more safe he or she will feel in it) – it should be dark and quiet and there should be a blanket for them to hide under or inside. Use the Adaptil® or Pet Remedy Spray® in the den to help to calm them. Cats prefer to have an ‘escape hole’ high up to go and hide in – somewhere on top of a cupboard or cabinet will do – you can place a blanket up there and spray this with Feliway® spray or Pet Remedy® spray.
2) The use of pheromones can be extremely useful for both dogs and cats. Adaptil® is a synthetically produced pheromone which simulates the pheromone given off by the bitch a few days after birth and has the effect of giving the puppies some confidence to go and explore, whilst feeling safe and secure because they are with mum. It comes in a diffuser form, which can be plugged into a wall socket near your dog’s bed, or in a spray form which can be used to spray your dog’s bedding, or in a collar form which can be fitted to your dog’s neck to go wherever he or she goes.
Feliway® is a synthetically made feline facial pheromone: it simulates the scent that cats leave behind when they rub themselves up against us and against the furniture, and it gives them a sense of safety and security. It comes in a diffuser form, which should be plugged into a wall socket in the room they spend most of their time in, and in a spray form, which can be used to spray their bedding or baskets. It is best to start using the Feliway® at least one month before the firework season begins, but it can still have an effect if used closer to the event.
3) There are various other alternative remedies that can be very helpful in minimising the stress your pet experiences during the firework season. These include skullcap and valerian (a herbal remedy, at a dose of one tablet per 5kg body weight given at least half an hour before fireworks are likely to start), and Nutracalm® (a mixture of naturally occurring sedatives that must be given 30-60 mins before the fireworks are expected). There is also a spray called Pet Remedy® which can be used for all mammals and birds to reduce stress. The Thundershirt® can also be useful in some instances as it wraps tightly around your pet, giving them physical comfort.
4) For dogs, if possible, make sure that you have walked them before dusk, and put them in a blacked out room at sundown with toys etc for them and preferably things for you to do as well, so they are not abandoned in the room. For cats, feed them early in the evening when it is still light outside. If you have more than one cat, make sure there is a feeding station, water bowl and litter tray for each cat plus a spare one, and separate these resources so that they are not next to each other.
5) Keep dogs and cats inside during fireworks and ensure their microchip is up to date (in case they do escape).
6) Ensure that windows, doors and cat flaps remain closed during fireworks both to prevent pets from escaping and to reduce the noise, and ensure that your cat has access to enough litter trays during the firework season, especially if you are keeping them indoors (general rule of thumb is one tray per cat plus one extra).
7) Provide distractions in the form of new toys and chews, and make sure you draw the curtains and put the television or radio on loudly to muffle the noise of the fireworks.
8) It is also very important that you react appropriately when your dog or cat shows signs of firework phobia, but this is often easier said than done, as the natural reaction is to comfort your pet. However, it is extremely important that you neither comfort nor scold your pet when they are showing fear of fireworks. This may exacerbate the behaviour, as it will confirm to your pet that they are right to feel fearful. It is best just to act completely normally around your pet, so they can see you’re not worried and that they have no reason to be either. It can be useful to try and distract them by playing games or having loud music on to try and drown out the sound of the fireworks (something with a lot of constant drumbeats is best).
9) Try not to leave your pets alone when fireworks are going off.
10) After the fireworks have stopped, leave the Adaptil/Feliway diffuser plugged in for a further week at least. It is easy to just ignore the problem as it only happens once or twice a year, but it is worth instigating a desensitisation programme once the season is over and you have control over the environment again: noise desensitisation CDs can help to achieve this.
If none of the above helps your pet through the fireworks period, then they may need a prescription medicine. There are several available, so if you think that your pet needs something more then please make an appointment to see a vet with your pet. If you have any questions, please ask a member of staff.