With Halloween and Guy Fawkes so close together, Fireworks Season is getting bigger, longer and louder than ever. But what about those animals who really don’t like loud bangs and bright flashes? How can we help them cope with this time of year?
What is it about fireworks that dogs and cats don’t like?
Simple – loud noises and bright flashes! Their night vision and their hearing are both better than ours – but that means they’re more easily dazzled by bright lights, and scared by loud noises. To make matters worse, because fireworks are so seasonal (in most places, two or three nights of the year is about it), our pets never get the chance to get used to them. The end result is terrified animals, hiding away or panicking and trying to escape – and that can be dangerous to them (we sometimes see pets who’ve jumped off roofs or through glass windows in an attempt to escape the scary noises) and to you (dogs and cats often respond to fear by biting the closest person – they don’t know it’s not your fault!).
So, is there anything I can do to help them?
Yes, fortunately there is! This is a really common problem, but with suitable preparation you can make the whole event less stressful, and even start treating their underlying fear.
Sound Desensitisation Therapy
The bright lights aren’t anything like as much of a problem as the loud noises, so Sound Desensitisation Therapy really is useful. The basic idea is to get your dog or cat used to the sounds fireworks make by playing a recording at very low volume. Then, over weeks and months, you can increase the volume gradually so they learn that the sounds aren’t anything to be scared of. There are a variety of CDs and mp3 playlists available to help with this – talk to us for advice. However, sometimes a dog or cat is too terrified for this to work effectively – in which case you should seek a consultation with a professional behavioural therapist – we can put you in touch with a good one.
There are two genuinely useful and effective pheromone products on the market, Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats. These contain artificial versions of natural scent molecules produced by dogs and cats (respectively) to help them calm down and lose their fear. Don’t be misled by other “aromatherapy” or “calming” diffusers though – the evidence for Adaptil and Feliway is really good, but is largely absent for other brands.
There are a wide range of different “calming” products and supplements available; however, while some are very good others are largely untested. If you are going to use one, the best studied is Zylkene, which contains a milk protein (casein). In the stomach of a cat or dog, this is converted into a benzodiazepine molecule that works the same way as “Valium”, reducing fear and encouraging calmness.
Make sure that there’s a safe ‘refuge’ or hiding place for your pets, where they can hide out if necessary. If this is prepared in advance so they can get used to it, it’s very effective at helping them cope on the night!
Calm on the night
On the night of the fireworks, it’s really important that you act correctly. Keep calm and don’t get worked up or anxious yourself – that’ll only make your pet more stressed! As far as possible, try to keep to the normal routine (without stressing them any more than they already are), and don’t reward fearful behaviour with treats, as it’s often counterproductive.
If all else fails, our vets can prescribe a range of human anti-anxiety medications, which are very effective in the short-term. We do not recommend these for long-term or routine use, because of the potential for side effects, but in a genuinely panic-struck animal they are invaluable. We do not prescribe simple sedatives any more because they don’t have any effect on your pet’s fear and stress, and therefore make the problem worse in the long term.
If your dog or cat are afraid of fireworks, talk to us in plenty of time before fireworks season starts, and we can help you to help them through it!