Fireworks season is upon us (it isn’t just a night any more!) and it can be an extremely stressful period for pets who find them frightening, not to mention for their owners!
Here are my top tips on how to help your pets get through it with the minimum of distress!
Keep them safe!
Make sure that your cats are indoors well before dark and the cat flaps are locked. If you have small pets living outside, cover their cages or move them inside for the night so the noises and flashes are muffled. Finally, make sure all your pets are microchipped and that the details are up to date, just in case they panic and run away.
Tire the dog out!
Aim to get your dog out for a really good walk in the late afternoon before the evening falls, so when you do get home, they are ready for a good rest and have less energy to work themselves up. Also, feeding a hearty carb heavy meal will fill their tummies and make them sleepy! (We’ve all been there!)
Make a den
Most animals will feel more secure in small, enclosed spaces and indeed many, especially if they are scared, will try to create this themselves by squeezing behind the sofa or cowering under a table. Deliberately creating a cosy den where they are covered on three sides, has a soft bed and maybe has a few treats scattered inside (!), will not only help them feel safer but will also muffle the noises from the festivities outside. Dog crates with a blanket draped over them are ideal but any small corner will do!
Shut out the noise!
Closing the curtains and internal doors, turning on the TV or playing some music all seem really simple but can go an awful long way to not only drowning out the pandemonium but will also normalise the situation for your pets, especially if you act as if nothing special is happening.
This applies as much to you as to your pets! Make sure you appear relaxed, even if you are not! Dogs especially are extremely intuitive to our moods and will sense if you are tense.
It is possible to over-comfort frightened behaviour and accidentally make your dog believe it is the correct way to be. If they start to become anxious, don’t be afraid to soothe them but also try to encourage them to be self-sufficient and calm. Giving them some treats to enjoy in their den or a stuffed kong can be an excellent way of shifting their attention away from their anxieties and helping them to relax without them even realising it!
Use calming supplements
There are several different, natural, calming supplements on the market which can be given to your dog to help reduce stress and anxiety and increase relaxation.
YuCALM is a relatively new product to the market and contains several natural ingredients that have been shown to have a calming effect on the brain and also reduces excitability and stress.
Adaptil and Feliway are synthetic versions of natural pheromones that can have a soothing effect on our cats and dogs and help to reduce their worry. Both come as ‘plug-ins’ which should be placed close to where your pet rests. Adaptil also comes as a collar which means your dog takes it everywhere with them and both is available as a sprays, so you can spritz their bed or even your hands and stroke it directly onto them.
These work best if you start using them well before Bonfire Night and don’t worry, we can’t smell them at all!
For some of the worst effected pets, especially dogs, they can only cope on the worst nights if they have been given medication prescribed by a vet. You will need to take them in for a consultation and health check and your vet is likely to discuss all the things above but medications can be extremely effective, and are very safe, and will mean a much less stressful and peaceful night for all!
Plan for next year!
One of the best ways to help your pets at fireworks time, especially if they become particularly distressed, is to start months before! On the Dogs Trust website you can download sound files designed by the leading animal behaviourists in the UK, the idea being that you play the noises over several months at a gradually increasing volume to desensitise your animals to fireworks.
You can also call upon the services of a qualified animal behaviourist to give you individual advice on how to help your animals. However, it is a very unregulated field and I would advise you only use someone who is registered with the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors. If you have pet insurance, they may well cover the costs.
For most people fireworks season is a fun, enjoyable time when the night sky lights up with beautiful displays but for many pet owners, it can be torture!
Please don’t think it has to be this way, following my advice, speaking to your vet, or getting professional behavioural intervention, will really help you and your animals enjoy, rather than dread, the dark!!