Pets and fireworks
If your pet becomes anxious when the loud bangs and bright lights of fireworks start, they're certainly not alone.
In 2021, The Kennel Club discovered that 80% of dog owners notice significant changes in their dog’s behaviour during the fireworks season, with a third saying their dog is terrified of fireworks. Plus, 34% of cat owners responding to the 2018 PDSA Animal Wellbeing Report noticed behaviour changes in their cats too.
If you're worried about your cat and dog this firework night and want to prepare, we have some top tips that will soothe their anxiety and keep them calm and safe.
How to keep your pet calm on bonfire night
The sooner you can start preparing your pets for Bonfire night, the easier it will be to shield them from stress. Mid-October onwards is the perfect time to start.
Starting a month in advance gives you plenty of time to run a full risk assessment for hazardous noises that provoke your pet's anxiety.
Your preparation work should involve:
Creating a sound sanctuary for your dogs and cats
An investment in calming products and the medication they need
A schedule of local events
With those key points under control, your home and pet are ready for when the Catherine wheels start flying.
#1 Make a note of organised fireworks displays
Although 5th November is the official date for Bonfire Night it’s common to hear fireworks being set off at different times and on the days leading up to and after this date.
In the run-up to Bonfire Night, keep an eye on local Facebook events, and listings in the paper, about how your community is celebrating bonfire night.
If you live in a busy area, keep a schedule of noise events. At congested times, ramp up your efforts to control how that noise enters your home and the anxiety-soothing controls you have in place.
#2 Speak to your neighbours about local firework displays
Some people like to have their own of private fireworks events held at home, and they can lawfully do so before 11pm.
Keep in touch with your neighbours. Are they going to celebrate firework night in the garden? What time will the first rocket go off? Are they having lots of friends and family over to celebrate?
A quick chat over the garden wall means you can have full visibility of what's in store for the night and organise a stress-free evening for you and your pet.
#3 Create a calm spot or quiet den for them to retreat to
In the run-up to Bonfire Night get them used to the quiet spot, especially if you know the night in which there’s going to be a lot of fireworks going off.
Make sure they know it’s a safe place where they can seek comfort. Always use blankets, treats and some of their favourite toys to make it more welcoming.
#4 Play relaxing music
Pets' hearing is much better than ours! Keep them inside around Bonfire night and close any windows or doors.
Playing relaxing music is a popular way of keeping dogs and cats calm because it goes some way to block out the sound of fireworks outside.
There are plenty of pet-friendly playlists and radio shows to choose from.
Alternatively, you can use your TV or radio. Whichever option you choose, our pets are individuals and it's about finding the option that best works for them.
#5 Find a soundproof room
How your home is constructed, and your furnishings, can make a huge difference to how sound enters, echoes and reverberates in your living spaces.
On firework night, pop your dog and cat in a room that shelters them from noise. The most soundproof room will have:
Sealed cracks and holes, including a covered chimney or blocked fireplace
#6 Use exercise and play to release any anxious energy
Exercise helps reduce stress and anxiety in dogs. Around fireworks night, you might forego the early evening walks to avoid loud noises and crowds of people.
But, reducing exercise causes stress and anxiety, which also leads to a distressing evening for you and them.
Take your pups out on a nice relaxing morning walk before Bonfire night or the next day if they’ve shown any signs of stress from the night before.
#7 Visit your vet
If you know your pet has been scared of fireworks in the past, visit your vet for advice.
They can help by explaining the benefits and effects of different supplements and medications (see below) that will help keep your pet calm.
How to tell if your pet is feeling anxious
The noise and unpredictability of fireworks can make our pets nervous and anxious. Learn to recognise the signs of pet anxiety so you can act swiftly to comfort and calm them:
While panting is a way for dogs to get rid of body heat, panting can also be a sign of stress. Some dogs may hold their mouth completely closed in a tight line if they are anxious.
Wide eyes or dilated pupils
Stressed pets will often have large, dilated pupils or show a large portion of their sclera (the white part of the eye).
Ears pinned back or ears very alert
Relaxed pets will have their ears typically in a more neutral, natural position. Anxious pets may have their ears pinned back against their head, or in some cases completely erect to listen carefully.
Increased drooling, lip licking, or yawning
In some cases, these changes can make people think the pet is relaxed, however in scenarios that are stressful it is common for dogs to yawn or drool more than normal.
Shaking or cowering
These are more obvious signs of discomfort, but pets that shake are outwardly manifesting their distress. Moreso, pets that cower or even hide are actively trying to remove themselves from the cause of their discomfort.
Dogs that whine, whimper, or even bark excessively are indicating they are overstimulated/nervous. For cats this can include meowing (often a different tone to their normal meow sound) or hissing. On the flip side, dogs that are often chatty can become quieter when stressed.
Anxious pets may try to avoid stressful encounters altogether. This can mean simply trying to avoid eye contact or facing away from the stressful scenario, to even trying to remove themselves completely by hiding or running away.
Reward and treat them for good behaviour
Pets pick up on their owner's attitudes and behaviours and keeping evenings as “normal” as possible will make a massive difference to both their stress levels and yours!
When you see your pets showing calm positive behaviour, make sure you reward them with lovely treats and praise. This is much better than telling them off and punishing nervous negative behaviour. You want to avoid creating any negative associations that may trigger further anxiety going forwards.
If you need to, ask your vet for help with behavioural issues. It might even be covered by your pet insurance.
Products to help calm your pet's firework phobia
If your pet has suffered from anxiety and nervousness in the past, especially around Bonfire night, you might want to consider the use of calming supplements and products that are available.
Brands like Pet Remedy are valerian based and can help with keeping your pet calm.
These include Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats. Pheromones can be bought as a plug-in, spray or collar. Receptors for pheromones are located between your pet's nose and mouth and these products can produce a calming effect.
This can be used for both dogs and cats. It's a natural supplement, with great results seen within one hour after administration. It can be sprinkled on your pet's food, so it's easy to give.
These work by applying constant pressure to your pet’s body. This type of pressure has been shown to release calming hormones such as oxytocin or endorphins, a bit like swaddling a baby. Thunder shirts can be used for both dogs and cats and come in a range of sizes.
Sileo gel is prescription-only, so ask your vet. This gel is applied to your dog’s gums or cheeks and calms them by reducing specific reactions in the nervous system. It's only to be used for dogs with fear aversions so it's best for extremely nervous dogs.