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Keeping pets calm on Bonfire Night

Published: Monday, October 28, 2013

Many pets can be stressed by the sight and sound of fireworks going off, if you know your pet is one of these there are several measures you can take to try and reduce their anxiety. With people letting fireworks off for more extended periods of time these days it can be difficult to avoid the stress as it is increasingly unpredictable but keeping your dogs and cats in after dark in the run up to Bonfire Night and for a week or so after can help avoid the majority of it.

Make sure all windows are closed and lock cat flaps. Closing the curtains and keeping the TV or radio on will muffle some of the noise and block flashes of light. Don’t leave a scared animal alone if at all possible but try to ignore fearful behaviour, unless it is putting your pet at risk of harming themselves, to avoid reinforcing it. Try and distract your pet instead. A new toy or dog chew can help or you can take this opportunity to do a bit of training with your dog. Using really tasty tit-bits should help focus their attention on you. Never punish them for being scared, it will usually make things worse.

Preparation is the key to helping your pet get through this difficult time. If possible you should try and provide a hiding place for your cat or dog. Your cat may already have a ‘safe place’ that he/she likes to sleep in such as a warm airing cupboard. If you have nothing like this a cardboard box, perhaps hidden in a corner or behind the sofa with blankets inside may be suitable. If your dog is already crate trained this would be an ideal hiding place. Do not lock your dog in the crate but cover the roof and sides with blankets to make it a dark safe place. Alternatively a shelter using blankets behind the sofa may help (or use blankets over an indoor clothes drying rack).

For next year:  Start preparing early by trying things such as a CD of fireworks. Ideally play the CD at very low levels initially gradually increasing the volume over a few weeks. Eventually your pet should become desensitized to the sound of the fireworks. Follow the instructions carefully so you don’t proceed too quickly with this as this could cause more distress to your pet. A thundershirt may also be worth trying. These are lightweight dog coats which are wrapped securely around the body providing gentle pressure. This gentle pressure (like a hug) is thought to provide a feeling of security & calmness within your dog. The results are shown to be very positive. If you know your pet reacts badly then you should also consider a visit to your vet who may in severe cases prescribe medication. An alternative to medication would be pheromone therapy (such as Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats) which are available from your vet and can also help promote calmness.

Outdoor pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs may also be scared by fireworks. It will help to make sure they are shut in their hutch with plenty of bedding to hide away in. Covering it with some old carpet will help muffle the noise and prevent them from seeing flashes that may distress them.

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