FLASH! BANG! WHIZZ! CRACKLE! POP! WHOOSH!
Fireworks have been a widespread part of bonfire night in Britain for many years. With loud unpredictable noises and sudden flashes of light, it’s understandable that some pets find them extremely frightening. With bonfire night fast approaching now is the perfect time to start thinking about what you can do to reduce firework fear in your pets.
The first step is to try and predict when fireworks will be due to be happening in your area. Local displays usually advertise in advance and it can be worth asking around to find out about any private events that people may be planning. Remember there may be multiple displays planned that may be audible from your home and not all of them will be on actual bonfire night. This knowledge will help you create a plan in advance to keep your pets calm and safe.
For young pets that have never experienced fireworks before, familiarisation therapy can be a great place to start. This involves the introduction of “scary” noises in a safe and controlled environment. The noises are often recorded soundtracks that start off quiet and build up to a realistic level. Familiarisation is best done in a familiar but secure room, such as your home living room. There should also always be the option for your pet to leave the room if they become too scared. This technique can also be used to teach older pets to be less fearful of fireworks, however, it may take more time and patience to break old habits. If you need any help with choosing a familiarisation program then come and have a chat with one of our vets and let them recommend the best technique for you. Remember, though, this approach is a long-term one, and may not be quick enough for this year’s bonfire night.
Diffusers are another brilliant way to keep pets calm during noisy November evenings. Most work by releasing a type of chemical called a pheromone. These chemicals are odourless and undetectable by humans, but to dogs, they create a feeling of calm and security. There are many different brands of diffuser available to buy from either pet shops or here at the vets. The different diffusers will vary in the chemicals present and recommended duration of use. Most of them recommend you start using the diffuser at least a week before the expected stressful event. This time period will vary depending on the brand of diffuser you choose and on your individual pets. Therefore it is best to start looking for a suitable diffuser in advance and check with the vets if you have any queries.
The best place for your pets to be during fireworks is at home. The right environment at home can play a huge role in making fireworks a less stressful experience. If you have a television or radio, then turning up the volume and keeping doors and windows closed can help to drown out the sounds of fireworks. Additionally closing the curtains/blinds so flashes aren’t visible is also a good idea. Running away to “escape” the sounds is a very common response for many pets. Therefore it is essential to ensure that your home and garden are escape-proof. Letting your pet out in the garden only on the lead is a good precaution if you have any doubts. Also making sure your pet is microchipped and has identification visible will make sure they are returned as soon as possible if they do manage to get out. Hiding is also a very normal response to fear and it is a good idea to allow them to do this. Trying to force them out of hiding may increase their fear and could lead to an aggressive response.
As mentioned above, if you are going out to enjoy the festivities it is best to leave your pets at home. Whilst you are away, make sure that the area of the house your pets will be left in is safe. This means no loose wires or objects that could be knocked off surfaces. They should have somewhere to hide such as a crate or bed that they are familiar with. It is also essential to check they have plenty of water. Scared dogs may pant a lot and become dehydrated much quicker than normal.
If you are staying at home with your pet then your own behaviour can help. Most owners’ automatic reaction is to give pets extra attention when they are displaying fear behaviours. However, this extra attention can validate their fear and make them think that there is something to be afraid of. Similarly, if you are jumpy and nervous about fireworks then they will pick up on this and feel fearful too. The best thing to do is to act normal and go about your evening as usual.