While many of us look forward to bonfire night and fireworks season, this can be a very stressful time for our pets. Around 80% of pet owners have had a pet that is afraid of fireworks. This fact sheet is designed to help you make this time a little easier for your pet to cope with.
Signs of fear in dogs during firework season:
• Trembling and shaking.
• Clinging to owners.
• Excessive vocalisation (bark, whine, howl).
• Cowering and hiding behind furniture.
• Trying to run away.
• Soiling the house.
• Pacing and panting.
• Refusing to eat.
• Self trauma.
How to help your dog:
- Walk your dog before dusk to avoid fireworks.
- Close any doors, windows and cat flaps to prevent escape.
- Many dogs and cats will try to hide when they hear fireworks. This helps them to cope with their fear. You can help your pet by making sure they have a hiding place where they feel safe. Create a comforting ‘den’. This could be inside a wardrobe or cupboard, or behind a sofa. Pad it with old pillows and blankets to help soundproof it. Your pet may already have a preferred hiding place. That is fine; they should not be forced out if this is already the place where they feel most relaxed. In the weeks leading up to firework season, let your pet have access to this den at all times and, for dogs in particular, offer healthy treats and praise when your dog uses it, this will build a positive association with this space.
- Ignore fearful behaviour, such as panting, shaking and whining. Dogs may pick up on their owner’s anxiety which could make the problem worse. Do not fuss your dog or try to reassure when he appears scared since this can signal that the response is appropriate. It is best to either ignore any fearful behaviour that occurs or better still be positively jolly at these times, to signal that there is nothing to be worried about.
- Provide your dog with distractions such as new toys and chews.
- Close the curtains and switch on the TV or radio to mask the noise.
- Do not leave your dog alone while fireworks are going off, they will be calmer with a familiar person at home.
- Do not punish your dog as this will only make them more distressed.
A pheromone plug-in placed nearby can also help devices such as Adaptil will release natural calming chemicals that help to reassure your dog are now available commercially. These chemicals are naturally produced by dogs in certain situations and are known as pheromones. If you plug in a device in your dog’s favourite resting place in a blacked out room and leave it on the whole time, you may find that this helps your dog cope through the firework season, but ideally start it a few months before firework season. They will probably continue to react to the noise by stopping what he is doing when the noise is heard but should not panic.
There are several medications and herbal remedies available to help your pet during this season. If your pet has needed these before, or if you feel that your pet would benefit please make an appointment with a vet.
Leigh Sobye BVSc MRCVS