Firework Season – helping distressed pets get through

We now think of this time of year as bonfire night season, rather than just bonfire night.  For pets this isn’t quite as much fun as it is for us.  Put simply, loud bangs and noises can be pretty distressing for dogs and cats alike.

Of course not all pets are upset by the noise of fireworks.  But alot are.  Their sense of hearing is better than ours, which is why sudden, loud noises can be much more distressing.  Add to that the trend in modern houses for less sound deadening surfaces – hardwood floors instead of carpets, blinds instead of curtains and painted walls instead of sound absorbing wallpaper, and it all adds up to an environment where loud noises can become amplified.

At this time of year we’re passed the point of prevention; we’re now in to the realms of dealing with the problem.

First-aid noise phobia advice for dog owners

• Making an animal confront the feared sounds will not help it get over its fears as this will make the condition worse.

• Don’t reassure a frightened dog (although it’s an entirely reasonable “human” reaction),  This attention inadvertently rewards the fearful state.  But ignoring the behaviour is not enough – it must be actively helped to cope with the noise.

• Reinforce with praise.  Petting or food treats may calm behaviour and encourage the appropriate reaction when the firework bangs go off.  But correct timing is important to avoid inadvertently reinforcing the wrong emotional state.

• If your dog is mildly stressed, try to distract it with a game, even if initially you have to pretend to play with their toys or balls yourself.

• Create a ‘refuge’ or den.  This is crucial, and pets often seek out sanctuary behind a sofa or chair, under a bed, or in an under-stairs cupboard.  Sound-absorbing in the refuge can be improved by piling on extra bedding or coats on top of furniture, leaving a curtain hanging down, etc.  An internal room with no windows is a good alternative.  As owners it’s useful if we spend some time in the refuge with a pet, just sitting quietly, demonstrating that there is nothing to fear.  This acts as another source of reassurance.

• There are now a number of helpful pheromone plug-ins and more recently, natural feed supplements that are very useful in helping to calm pets, even in the face of the fireworks having already started.  In years gone by all we had to rely on was the trusty ACP yellow pills.  Sadly, although dogs were less likely to be destructive, it just rendered them incapable of responding to the fear, but probably made the phobia even worse, because they were still fully exposed to the noise.  “Treatment” has moved a long way forward now though, and your Vet should be able to advise on more suitable help for a distressed pet

and for cats….

It is just as important for cat owners to ensure they get their pets inside well ahead of firework displays and provide a refuge.  For cats these are often high, dark places, or under beds or even inside an airing cupboard.  Surrounded by towels and clothing this can often be an ideal sound-proof area in the centre of the house.

The feed supplements mentioned for dogs are also available for cats, and has proved very successful in reducing the distress that the noises during firework season can cause.

oh, and don’t forget the rabbit…

If your rabbit lives outside, partly cover the cage with blankets so that one area is well sound-proofed.  Make sure, though, that they are still able to look out