Fireworks and firecrackers are an important part of how we celebrate the new year or other festive seasons. As a pet owner, however, you may know or have even experienced firsthand how fireworks and pets just don’t go well together.
Studies have indicated that up to 50% of dogs are afraid of fireworks. The loud noises and bright flashing lights can cause animals – pets and wildlife included, to react with fearful, anxious, and unpredictable behaviour which can cause them to harm themselves or even people around them. In short, the fireworks season can be terrifying if not traumatizing for animals.
Whether you are a seasoned pet owner or a first-time pet owner, here is what you can do to keep your pets safe this festive season:
1. Prepare a safe haven for your pets
In the days leading up to the festive season of fireworks and firecrackers, prepare a safe quiet space in your home for your dog. This can be the quietest room in the house, where the curtains are drawn, and windows are shut. Create a positive experience for them in this space by placing comfortable bedding, a few of your pets’ toys, and their food and water bowls there. Leave that space for them, and don’t impose yourself in that space. When they feel scared, they know they can retreat there.
For cats, make sure that your house has plenty of safe hiding spots throughout the house and that they won’t be locked out or cut off from other areas of the house. Generally, most cats would be comfortable hiding under the bed or sofa. Otherwise, providing cardboard boxes, or leaving their cat carrier open and accessible and tucked in a safe spot would suffice as well.
2. Keep them indoors at night
Walk your dogs before nightfall so you are not out with them when the fireworks go off. If you need to, adjust your routine with your dog about 1 week before the fireworks start. Make sure they are always leashed on walks. This is to prevent them from unexpectedly running off and getting lost in the night when they are frightened by the loud sounds.
If your cats venture outdoors regularly, keep them inside the house once they come home, so you know they are safe throughout the night.
3. Stay with them
If possible, be home with your pets when the fireworks are going off. That way, you can keep an eye on them, in case they panic. You can also reassure them if they are starting to feel anxious or distract them with a special treat. Knowing you are there with them will help to keep them calm.
4. Play calming music or leave the TV on to drown out the noise
Before the fireworks start, leave relaxing music on or a TV show you usually watch so that familiarity can distract and reassure your pet. Music or TV also acts as white noise to drown out the loud whistles and bangs so that the sounds of the fireworks are less overwhelming.
5. Keep curtains/blinds and windows closed
Drawn curtains and closed windows will help to reduce the volume of noise from the fireworks, as well as block out the flashing lights that may startle pets. Closed windows and doors also prevent your pets from escaping the house in panic.
Keep small animals like rabbits and guinea pigs indoors if possible and cover their cage with a cloth/towel (while still leaving a small opening to look out) to reduce their stress from the noise and lights.
6. Prepare extra bedding for small animals
Burrowing is a behaviour that rabbits tend to exhibit when they are afraid. Provide more hay and bedding for them, as well as an additional cardboard box with bedding inside and good ventilation so they have a safe space to hide in or burrow into.
7. Make sure your pets are microchipped and have their collars with labels on
Microchip your pet and update your pet’s collars with your name and contact details in case they run away as this can happen when they are frightened.
8. Consider pheromone diffusers
Pheromone diffusers can help to alleviate stress and anxiety but will require a couple of weeks of usage before they will be effective enough for your pet on the night of fireworks. Consult with your veterinarian on the types of pheromone diffusers available for your pet.
9. Consult your veterinarian on anti-anxiety medication
If your pet has already shown signs that they are fearful of loud noises such as thunderstorms, make sure that you are well prepared by following the above steps. However, if they have shown erratic, unpredictable behaviour such as being unable to calm down, and going into a frenzy when they hear these loud noises, please consult your veterinarian on managing your pets’ fireworks phobia. Anti-anxiety medication may also be prescribed to keep your pet calm.
Together with managing their home environment and giving medication as necessary, you can keep your pet safe and less stressed during the festive season.