With Guy Fawkes season coming up, you may be feeling anxious about the impact it will have on your pet, as so many animals are scared of fireworks. Noise phobias are a problem we treat frequently in our Behaviour Clinic, as it can cause immense distress.
I know how awful it is to see your beloved pet scared, so I’ve put together some tips on how to keep your pet safe and feeling as calm as possible when the fireworks kick off this year.
Why are animals scared of fireworks?
Generally an animal can become phobic of certain noises if they weren’t exposed to those sounds early on in life, when their brains were developing and learning what is a normal and expected part of life. Fireworks is a very common noise phobia, because often pets don’t get a chance to hear these unique noises while they are young, unlike other common household sounds. Any sounds that emit at high energy levels can be frightening to animals if not desensitised early in life, and sudden very loud onsets are often more frightening especially as animals don’t understand where they come from or why.
How to prevent your pet developing noise phobia
If you’re raising a puppy, I recommend you regularly play fireworks noises to them through a speaker from a very young age, starting just a few days after you bring them home. Begin at a very low volume then slowly increase the volume to a realistic level, while using a clicker and high value food rewards to click and reward them for being calm and accepting of the sounds. This will help build their resilience for real fireworks displays in future. If you don’t have a clicker, you can just give pieces of high value food such as chicken or cheese, but a clicker does aid in the desensitisation process.
With a kitten, you can also play fireworks noises to them in the same way while feeding them a favourite treat like licking butter off the back of a spoon.
You can find these sounds on YouTube or streaming services.
How to handle Guy Fawkes night with a fearful pet
If your pet is already fearful or you’re uncertain as to how they might feel or react, here I’ve put together a few tips and tricks to get everyone ready for the night as comfortably as possible. The key is to get them through the night with as little distress as possible, so that it doesn’t increase their trauma.
Tips to help your pets on Guy Fawkes night
- Make sure they can’t escape
A fearful pet can bolt out of the house and get lost in their fear, this is really important so make sure everyone in the family is vigilant about blocking exterior doors.
- Shut them inside early
Especially for cats, make sure you locate them and shut them in the house nice and early, I would actually suggest you keep them inside all day on Guy Fawkes.
- Tracking tag
If there is any risk of your pet escaping, attach a tracking device like an Apple Air Tag to their collar beforehand so you can find them later if needed. And of course, make sure they are microchipped. But I do suggest you prevent this by keeping them carefully shut in the house.
- Tire them out
Take active dogs for a big walk before fireworks begin and give cats a high energy play session. Tiring them out will help them relax.
- Make a safe space
Find a quiet room and put their bed in there, with their blanket, some food and water. If your pet is happy in a crate, that would be ideal, and you can cover it up to further dampen the fireworks sound and make it even more snug and secure. A small dark space is calming for most animals.
- Bring outside pets indoors
I suggest bringing outside pets indoors for the night. Even rabbit and guinea pig hutches can be transported into a quiet inside room to help them feel more safe.
- Close curtains and blinds
Blocking out the visual stimuli of fireworks can help reduce your pet’s anxiety, and closing curtains can also help dampen the sound.
- Act calmly
Pets pick up strongly on our emotions, so act calmly and happy, and don’t fuss over your pet too much. They’ll take their lead from you.
- Play music or put the TV on
This will create noises that your pet recognises and will help block the noise of the fireworks.
- Offer distractions
Make sure your pets have plenty of favourite toys and chewy treats to keep them entertained and distracted.
- Don’t worry if they hide
Pets can feel safer hiding in a small space, such as under the bed, so don’t worry too much if they hide themselves somewhere in the house, unless they are extremely distressed. Ideally have a crate and a cover to buffer sound and to make them feel safe.
- Take them away if needed
For especially fearful pets, try and take them to a place where there won’t be a loud fireworks display. Maybe a friend’s house out of the city for example. Be careful moving cats though, a cattery in a quiet place may be better if that’s necessary.
- Offer calm support
If your pet looks distressed or anxious, stay with them – but still act calmly and don’t fuss over them too much to help reduce their anxiety levels. Use your clicker to switch them out of a fear state and into a learning state if you’re familiar with clicker training.
- Consider calming aids
Consider using a homeopathic remedy to help calm them, or talk to your vet about medication in cases of extreme distress. Anti-anxiety drugs and even sedatives if they’re very fearful will get them through the night with not too much trauma. A snug fitting garment like a Thundershirt may also help calm dogs, by providing gentle constant pressure to reduce anxiety.
- Social facilitation
If your dog has a doggy friend that is totally unfazed by fireworks, get together with that dog for the night. The other dog’s relaxed attitude will help your dog see that there’s nothing to be frightened of, and this could greatly contribute to how calm they feel.
- Avoid punishment
Never punish your pet or tell them off for being afraid, this will only contribute to the issue.
- Clean up
If you’ve had fireworks on your property, ensure you clean up thoroughly before your pets go back outside.
- Have a sheltered spot for big pets
Large pets like horses, cows and sheep can definitely become distressed by fireworks too. Wherever possible, ensure they have a safe, secure, sheltered area to hide in and ideally stable them if possible.
I hope this helps your pets to feel a bit more comfortable when there are fireworks about!