05 May 2021
How to help pets distressed by fireworks
28 Oct 2021 | Justine Shotton
BVA President Justine Shotton shares some advice for pet owners on how they can support pets who are scared of fireworks.
It’s that time of year again – cool air, hot chocolates enjoyed by the side of a warm fire, and festivities. These often include fireworks, entertainment we love but that can also be scary for our pets and potentially dangerous for our livestock and wildlife.
The pandemic changed our lives dramatically and gave many families the opportunity to bring a new pet into their home. However, due to a combination of factors including lockdowns, social distancing and other restrictions, many of these animals, particularly puppies, did not have as much socialisation and exposure to all of life’s sights, sounds, smells and experiences as they normally would. It’s vital that puppies get this wide range of experience in their first few weeks of life, and without exposure to things like loud bangs and crashes, they may develop noise phobias later in life.
While prevention is better than cure, what can be done to help your pet if you’re worried that they are already scared by fireworks? There are many things that can help you prepare early to ensure that festive times are fun for everyone and do not create additional stress for your pet. Look out for signs that your pet may be affected by noise phobias – for example if they run away, hide, or even bark aggressively when they hear noises such as hoovers, loud bangs or children crying. The signs can also be more subtle, such as changes to facial expression, reluctance to be on their own or other changes in behaviour.
If you’re worried that they will be severely distressed by fireworks noise, please get in touch with your vet now to discuss how they can help support you. Firework phobia can be effectively treated with behaviour-modification techniques, which can achieve long-term success with professional input and owner commitment. I’ve worked with dogs that have been desensitised to noise phobia gradually over time and this has worked really well, but it does need patience and time.
Even with fireworks festivities fast approaching, there is still time for you to make a difference and help support your pet. Where animals are more severely affected, pharmaceuticals can help to keep them calm and reduce fear during triggering events, but it’s important not to rely on these methods alone and always to talk to your vet and behaviourist about multi-modal therapies. It’s also important to remember that different species respond to fear in different ways, and it may be very hard to tell if your bunny or guinea pig is negatively affected by fireworks noise, so it’s better to assume they will be scared, and bring them inside into a quieter safe space.
A few top tips for helping keep your pet calm during fireworks:
- Prepare a den for your pet (as early as possible and ideally around two weeks before fireworks season) and give them praise when they are relaxed there, so they come to view it as a safe retreat. Even if you haven’t had time to prepare this in advance, having a quiet, dark place your pet can easily retreat to can be helpful.
- Use pheromone products next to the den and around the home. These are scents that we can’t smell but can help to reduce a pet’s stress.
- Provide background noise and close curtains and windows on nights when fireworks are expected.
- Remain calm yourself. Try not to be too animated when reassuring your pet as this often inadvertently reinforces anxious behaviour. Never punish your pet – remember, if they toilet in the house it’s not their fault.
- Move small pets, such as rabbits and guinea pigs, to a quiet place indoors when fireworks are expected, and provide lots of bedding to mask the sounds.
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