Advice for pet owners to help cats and dogs remain calm during fireworks

Dogs and cats are often scared by fireworks, Pic: Shutterstock
Dogs and cats are often scared by fireworks, Pic: Shutterstock
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A charity has issued advice to pet owners ahead of a stressful time of year for cats and dogs.

Reseach from pet wellbeing charity, PDSA, found that around eight million cats and dogs are affected by fireworks phobias in the UK - while 37 per cent of dog and cat owners in Scotland reported that their pets are scared of fireworks.

Ahead of Bonfire Night celebrations, the PDSA has published a ‘fireworks ready’ action plan to help owners manage their pets’ anxiety in the coming weeks.

The charity has also produced a checklist and special guidance for owners of young pets on how to manage their first experience.

PDSA vet Rebecca Ashman said: “Sadly, more than one-in-three cats and dogs in Scotland suffer distress due to fireworks, and their response can range from mild to very extreme.

“Many shake and tremble, are unable to settle, toilet in the house, destroy furniture, and can even cause themselves physical injury if they panic, try to escape or run away.”

She added: “While we can’t prevent fireworks from happening, owners can take steps to reduce their pets’ anxiety.

“Puppy and kitten owners also have an opportunity to prevent this phobia by including fireworks noises to their destination and socialisation regime.

“Getting them used to fireworks noises can stop these fears from taking hold in later life.”

READ MORE: Six places to celebrate Bonfire Night in Edinburgh

PDSA’s ten tips for helping pets stay calm during fireworks

•Build a den for your pet somewhere where they feel safe. For dogs, this may be behind the sofa or under a table. Cover it with blankets and line with pillows or cushions to help absorb the noise. Cats often feel safest when high up, so a safely secured, covered cat bed on top of a wardrobe or shelf may be their preferred option. Don’t force pets to use it, but a healthy treat or praise when they do helps to build positive associations and encourages them to use it.

•Use a sound CD with young pets, to help familiarise them with the noises of fireworks. A few months ahead is best, but even a few weeks of preparation helps. Play on the lowest volume in another room at first, and very gradually increase the volume and duration over a period of weeks. Rewarding your pet when they show calm behaviours is key, and if they get anxious, stop immediately and go back a step.

•Ensure cats and dogs are microchipped and their registered details are up to date (this is a legal requirement for dogs anyway) so that if they run off in panic, they can be quickly reunited with their owner.

Make a note of the dates of local fireworks displays and put a reminder in your phone so you can make sure you are prepared. Stay home and have plenty of toys and distractions to hand.

•Bring rabbit and guinea pig hutches indoors on fireworks evenings. A car-free garage or shed is ideal. Provide plenty of extra bedding hay and cover the hutch with thick blankets to minimise the noise, but be sure not to obstruct air flow. For hamsters, gerbils and other small indoor pets, move cages away from windows and again make sure they have plenty of bedding so they can hide if they’re frightened.

READ MORE: Police in plea to curb bad behaviour on Bonfire Night

•Walk dogs early on fireworks nights and make sure your cats are indoors before dark, and the cat flap is closed. Close all doors, windows and curtains fully well before displays start.

•Play music to disguise the noises. Something with a repetitive beat is ideal, or anything that your pet finds calming or relaxing (suggested playlists available on PDSA’s website).

•Try calming pheromones. These are available as diffusers or sprays that release scents, which are undetectable to humans, but have a calming, reassuring effect on our pets.

•Look out for signs of anxiety, which include shaking, cowering, hiding, refusing to eat, toileting in the house, pacing and panting or trying to run away. If your pet shows any of these signs then remain calm yourself, but provide comfort to your pet as you normally would if they need you. If they hide in their den, don’t try to coax them out. Let them stay where they feel safest.

READ MORE: Firefighters attacked with stones in Edinburgh on Bonfire Night

•If your pet gets very afraid of fireworks this season visit your vet to get advice on tackling the problem long term. They may recommend medication or advise on how to get specialist behavioural advice.