Fireworks - pretty or not they can scare pets

Fireworks and your pet

Remember remember, the 5th of November (and the whole period around it) - we're now in the prime week of the year in which both organised and impromptu firework displays are happening, with loud bangs and flashes filling the night sky on a daily basis. 

What can we do if our dog or cat finds this all too stressful, or even terrifying? Many of us have pets who, no matter how well settled and trained at home, really have a hard time with unexpected noises scaring them witless several times every night. We totally recommend discussing this with your veterinary team as in some cases the tips below are insufficient and the only option is to give your pet some medication until the skies quieten again, and in all cases there is almost certainly some good practical advice and/or less dramatic methods to help.

A pug hides under a blanket, many dogs are terrified of the loud bangs during firework season

One of the key things to remember is that even when fireworks seem to be so distant as to be almost inaudible to us, the keen senses of our pets will pick up alien sounds which can trigger their "fight or flight" response. This reaction involves the production of stress hormones including adrenaline and noradrenaline, some dogs will bark while others will whimper or howl in order to gain their family's attention, they might cower and hide like the pug in this photo or they could start running and jumping towards doors and windows as they seek to figure out what the noise is and where it's coming from. Cats can also vocalise but will often seek shelter, one watchout is that if they're out and about this could lead them to run away or find an apparently safe place which ends up with them being lost. While some pets might simply seek safety with you, snuggling up for a reassuring cuddle, it's important to recognise that they are exhibiting stress and find ways to help them manage this.

Remember to keep your cats indoors if you're concerned they might stray or flee during fireworks

So, what can we do to minimise the discomfort and anxiety our pets might be experiencing at this time of year? The first thing is to ensure you're as ready as you can be and this might mean immediate action to help get them through the next week or so. One of the most effective tools we can use are pheromone sprays or diffusers, which release chemical messengers into the air which mimic the maternal pheromones released by female dogs and cats as they nurse their litters. This is a well-studied system which has been long endorsed by vets and behaviourists given that the synthetic pheromones are both effective and safe for both pets and humans, the most important factor is to check out the right options (we're not involved in selling or promoting particular ones but have heard great reviews of Adaptil and Feliway here in the UK), and ensure that you give them time to work (ideally a good few days before and after you expect these events to take place).

Many pet parents have found that keeping the home well lit, and having some "normal" background noise at a reasonable volume can help keep their pets calm, be that having the TV or radio running throughout the evening or having music playing (choose carefully!). If possible it is definitely reassuring for pets to have someone in the room with them so they're not left alone to deal with sudden and unexpected loud bangs, whistles and shrieks. Ideally it is worth letting your neighbours know if your pet is particularly nervous, and asking that they consider avoiding noisy fireworks at home or at least give you plenty of notice so you can potentially go somewhere for the duration of their bonfire parties. During the periods of activity, it is important to gently reassure your pet, but try not to make too big a fuss which can embed their sense that something is wrong. Don't chastise or punish them, even if their behaviour ends up becoming somewhat problematic, as this can confound the issue - it is always better to use positive reinforcement of good behaviours with suitable rewards such as praise/affection or the occasional treat.

Calm, gentle affection as shown to this poodle helps reassure your pet

Another popular, and generally perceived as more natural mode of helping soothe pet anxiety is the use of herbal remedies or supplements. Some nutritional elements can help, for example tryptophan is an amino acid which is found in meats such as turkey (albeit we're not going to claim any meaningful effects from the whole pet food range). Herbs which have been identified as helping calm pets include Chamomile, Valerian and St John's Wort and it is possible to find blends of these and other herbs which can be either sprinkled on food or given as tablets or tinctures which many families have found hugely beneficial.

If these measures aren't sufficient, the answer is likely to rely on veterinary intervention, be that a supplement or medication - there are products based on milk protein which have been proven to help, or in the most extreme cases your vet may determine the safest and kindest option for the pet is to use a mild sedative for a short period of time. While many of us prefer to minimise pharmaceutical intervention, there are times when the alternative options simply don't deliver results, and in professional hands these therapies can be used safely within sensible limits.

Bear in mind that while this blog has been written and published in the beginning of November, which is when the United Kingdom has a profusion of fireworks linked to the tradition of Guy Fawkes' Night (and the childhood rhyme which began this post), there are a number of occasions on which we might expect similar displays albeit often over a shorter, more compressed period of time. New Year's Eve is becoming ever more associated with displays, and several religious festivals now also feature fireworks. In the summer months it is also worth considering outdoor concerts and festivals at which pyrotechnic displays could be a feature. All the ideas and techniques highlighted above can be useful at these times too.

We wish you and your pets a safe and peaceful Autumn!

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