How to dial down the fear of firework season

Get prepared and spread the word about how to make this noisy time of the year a little less frightening for our pet animals

Posted: 02 October 2019

How to dial down the fear of firework season


Early November can be an extremely stressful time for pets and their owners. Many animals have very sensitive hearing, so it’s not surprising that they find loud firework bangs, along with mysterious flashing lights, very distressing. As we have no way of explaining what these sudden, unpredictable sights and sounds are to our pets, all we can do is help them to feel safe. 

Do your best for dogs

  • Create a safe hiding place. This could be somewhere that they like to go normally such as behind the sofa or under the kitchen table – just add a soft blanket for them to lie on and some chew toys – or create a cosy den. Plan ahead and get your dog used to spending time in there before firework season properly kicks off. Tempt them in by placing tasty treats and items of your clothes that smell like you so they associate their den with good things.
  • Take your dog on a good walk earlier in the day while it’s still light and give them the opportunity to go outside to toilet before any fireworks start.
  • Shut all the windows, close the curtains and turn up the volume of your TV or radio. Add some familiar ‘white noise’ by putting the washing machine on or doing the vacuuming (as long as your pet doesn’t mind these sort of noises) as this will all help drown out the whizzes and bangs outside.
  • Try distracting your dog by playing some indoor games – but don’t force them if they're reluctant to join in.
  • Provide them with a long-lasting chew treat – many dogs find chewing very soothing.
  • Pressure wraps have a calming effect on some dogs. The idea was developed in the USA by Phil Blizzard for his dog Dosi, who was terrified by thunderstorms and fireworks. After a friend recommended trying a snug wrap – rather like swaddling a baby – Phil wrapped his pet in an old t-shirt secured with packing tape to create mild pressure. Dosi calmed almost immediately, which led to the development of the  ThunderShirt.
  • Ask your vet about ADAPTIL – a pheromone which you can’t smell that comes in a plug-in diffuser, spray, collar or in tablet form (which you give two hours before a firework event). ADAPTIL works by sending ‘comforting messages’ to help dogs feel calm and relaxed in stressful situations. 
  • Zylkene is a natural supplement that some pet owners find helps their dogs (and cats) to feel calm. This needs to be administered at least one or two days prior to a stressful event – for some dogs, five days prior is recommended.
  • For very anxious dogs, speak to your vet as soon as possible about what medication is available. Drugs, such as Diazepam, won’t stop your dog from being scared during the night, but cause short term memory loss, so they won’t remember feeling scared in the morning, which can stop the fear cycle from becoming worse. SILEO is a new treatment for noise aversion in dogs (exhibited by pacing, lip licking, shaking and panting) associated with fear and anxiety. It’s fast-acting (it takes about 30 minutes to an hour for SILEO to take full effect, and typically lasts two to three hours) and calms without sedating. SILEO has to be administered in a very specific way by depositing gel inside your dog’s cheek. Your vet can advise if this is a suitable treatment for your dog.
  • Comfort your dog. Animal behaviour experts at rehoming charity Dogs Trust states: “In the past, advice has sometimes been to ignore dogs and not give them a fuss if they are scared. But if you suddenly withdraw reassurance when they are terrified by noises it is likely to cause them to be very distressed.” The experts agree that if your dog comes to you to be comforted then do just that.

Caring for cats

  • Bring your cat in before dark and, as well as securing all doors and windows, don’t forget to lock their cat flap and draw all the curtains. Cats can squeeze into surprisingly tight spots, so block off any unsuitable areas they may go into.
  • Provide plenty of different hiding places and a litter tray – one for each cat if you have more than one. Cats normally hide in a specific place, so make sure they have access and use treats and toys to encourage them to use the space. Try a box lined with blankets with the opening slightly covered. Cats feel safer higher up, so placing the box on a top shelf or cupboard will help – make sure it’s secure and won’t fall down. If your cat is hiding away, let them be and don’t try to tempt them out or pick them up as this may cause them to become more stressed.
  • Don’t shut them in a confined area as they could injure themselves trying to escape. Allow access to all safe areas of the house.
  • Ask your vet about the Feliway diffuser. This mimics feel-good pheromones, helping your cat to feel calmer. 
  • Make sure your cat's microchip is up to date so, if they are scared by a random firework and run off, they can be identified and returned to you. It’s also a good idea for them to wear an engraved tag on an easy-release collar.

Protecting small pets

  • Rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets and small indoor pets can be extremely frightened by bangs and flashes too. For those that usually live outside, try and move their hutch or enclosure somewhere more sheltered, such as into a quiet room of the house, or into a shed or empty garage. If this isn’t possible, cover their accommodation with blankets to help muffle the sound, but still enabling them to look out.
  • Providing small pets with extra bedding to burrow into will also help them feel more secure – try Burgess Excel Feeding Hay with Chamomile, which is renowned for its calming properties.
  • Pet Remedy is a natural de-stress and calming product, which can help dogs, cats, rabbits and other small pets.

Also check out the RSPCA’s new fireworks advice infographic that you can share with your pet loving friends 

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