Wait a moment, it’s October? What happened to summer!? Yes, autumn is here, and with it a seemingly endless stream of holidays right through to the big one in December (we didn’t say the name!). Many of these celebrations are an excuse to let off fireworks. If you are there to watch them, fireworks are magical, but if you’re trying to sleep, they can be a bit of a nuisance. However, for your pets, who generally have much better hearing than us, the sudden loud noises may cause them terrible stress, anxiety and health problems. So short of moving to Timbuktu, what can you do to help your pet cope with firework season?
Small mammals, like mice, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs and rabbits, are generally very nervous critters, so firework season can be especially difficult for them – stressed smallies can go off their food, become aggressive, pull out their hair, or even die from fear, so it’s important to prepare for the fireworks. Any outdoor pets should be brought inside; if they have lived all their life outside, do this gradually, so they get used to it. Once inside, put them in a quiet part of the house, and partially cover their cage to provide a dark area. Consider adding a lot more bedding, or things to nest in, to allow them to hide when it is loud.
Ferocious felines can unfortunately be just as fearful of fireworks as mice and rabbits. As with small furries, outdoor cats should be brought inside well before the fireworks start. Ensure cat-flaps, doors and windows are well secured too. You may want to try and drown out the fireworks with loud noises cats are used to, such as the TV or some music; make sure it’s nothing that could also make them jump though. Cats like to climb high for safety, so provide easy and safe access to the tops of cupboards or wardrobes. Perhaps even set up a nest there they can hide in. Nests are a good idea in general, so pop one somewhere dark and quiet.
A stressed cat may not be the most welcome of cats, so try not to get angry if they are more grumpy, destructive, or vocal than usual, or if they have an ‘accident’ on the carpet. Shouting at them will only make them more stressed, so stay calm. If the worst should happen and they run away, ensuring they were microchipped can help them find their way home. For chronically stressed cats (at any time, not just around fireworks), plug-in de-stressing products such as Feliway are readily available and may help calm your cat.
Hoovers, baths and vets are things almost universally hated by dogs – come November, we can add fireworks to that list. The advice for dogs and fireworks is similar to cats – ensure they are not outside during the firework display. This means you might want to avoid walking late in the evening. Any change in routine can be a source of stress, so start changes early, before the season begins. During the evening, as with cats, ensure the house is secured. Dogs are often more social than cats, but they may still want to hide alone during fireworks, so provide a safe space for them as well. However, for many dogs, simply staying with them, talking calmly and softly, and offering reassurance can help their nerves. Just be wary that their behaviour may change at any time. Ensure they are microchipped too, like cats, in case they decide to run away.
Hopefully for the vast majority of pets, these tips will help them stay calm on firework night – but for those few who might be extra stressed, and show symptoms long after the noises are over, there are a few things you can do. Particularly good for young pets that have not experienced fireworks yet, there are CDs and mp3s that work to help acclimatise your pet to loud noises, gradually getting louder at a pace they can stay calm with. Not all pets respond well, so it may be something to discuss with your vet.
On the topic of vets, we can offer drugs to especially nervous patients to help calm nerves, but this is usually a last resort. We may also - occasionally - need to refer you to a pet behavioural therapist, who can work with you and your pet to try and reduce anxiety in general. As mentioned before, these kinds of treatments are generally for chronically stressed pets, not just those fearful of fireworks.
hen you’re out in the cold, lighting sparklers and setting off fireworks, make sure you do not forget about your pets left at home, who may not be having such a wonderful time. Good planning for the season, and some love and care can go a long way to helping your pet cope with firework season. Now someone pass the hot chocolate!