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  • Laura Chesworth

How to keep your pets safe on Bonfire night!


This is a fun time of year for many, but Bonfire night and the Christmas festivities can be a distressing and frightening time for all our pets; not just dogs. Cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and birds can all be affected, and you can really help your pet by ensuring you make them as calm and comfortable as possible.

As well as the obvious dangers from fireworks and bonfires, be aware that some pets can get very scared and run off, sometimes resulting in serious injuries or getting lost.

Recognising the signs of distress:

Dogs:

  • Pacing

  • Panting

  • Trembling

  • Hiding/remaining close to you

  • Excessive salivation/drooling

  • Destructiveness

  • Excessive vocalization

  • Self-inflicted trauma

  • Faecal incontinence

  • High heart rate

Cats

  • Cowering and hiding behind or on top of furniture.

  • Trying to run away.

  • Soiling the house.

  • Refusing to eat.

Rabbits

  • Stamping hind feet.

  • Staying motionless.

  • Trying to escape.

What can I do to help?

The best methods for helping your pet deal with fireworks in the long term involve behavioural modification, however these do need to be started a few weeks or even months before Bonfire night to be effective.

In advance:

  1. A fireworks noise CD can be used to desensitise them to the sound of fireworks over a period of time. Consult your vet for further details.

  2. Pheromone diffusers such as the Adaptil diffuser or collar (dogs) or the feliway diffuser or spray (cats) can help with mild cases. The diffuser is plugged in to a socket near where your pet spends most of his time. It releases a synthetic version of calming pheromones to help reassure them. Ideally they should be plugged in 1-2 weeks before Bonfire night.

  3. A 'safe haven', such as a den, will ensure your pet has a place to go and settle if he is distressed by the noise of fireworks.

  4. Getting your pet microchipped will increase the chance that your pet can be traced back to you if lost.

On the night:

Do:

  • Keep your pet indoors with windows and doors securely closed when fireworks are being set off. Leave internal doors open so they don’t feel trapped.

  • Try to sound proof your house – closing windows and drawing curtains. Also provide some background “white-noise” such as the TV, radio or other music. It is wise to start this well in advance of the fireworks starting.

  • Ensure your pet has access to a place where he can go and settle if he is distressed by the noise of fireworks. This may be his usual bed but you can also offer an alternative such as a blanket under a table with some of your old clothes as this will provide somewhere to hide and will be a comfort to your pet. Let cats hide where they like – do not try to tempt them out. If your cat is scared, do not pick him up or restrain him.

  • Take your dog for his usual walk before the fireworks are set off and ensure that he is kept on a lead at all times especially if you are in any doubt about whether the noise of a firework may cause him to bolt. Feed him as normal as this may help to settle him down for the evening.

  • Ensure your pet is wearing ID so that if he does run away there is a greater chance of him being returned to you. While the law dictates that your pet must wear a collar and tag, we strongly advise that your pet is also microchipped as this increases the chance that your pet can be traced back to you if lost.

  • Praise your pet when he is calm as this will help reassure him.

Don’t:

  • Take your dog to a fireworks display or walk your pet while fireworks are being set off, as this will often cause distress. Remember your pet doesn't have to be showing signs such as shaking or whimpering to be distressed as even excessive panting or yawning can indicate that he is anxious.

  • Tie your dog up outside if fireworks are being set off.

  • Let your dog off the lead near a bonfire or fireworks display.

  • Leave your pet alone if he is distressed - just like us our pets, seek comfort in numbers, so your presence will help reassure your pet that he is safe.

  • Shout at your pet if he has been destructive as a result of distress - this will only upset him more.

  • Attempt to comfort your dog. Unfortunately in many cases our natural reaction is to comfort a distressed dog but this will make their fear worse. By paying attention to their behaviour when upset we can teach them that fireworks are something they really should be frightened of. The best way to cope is to prepare for the evening as best you can and then ignore them unless they are calm and behaving normally in which you can give them fuss and attention.

Small pets and wildlife

Ideally, bring the hutch inside. If this is not possible, partly cover hutches and other outside cages with blankets so that they have some soundproofing.

Make sure hutches and cages contain hiding places and secure areas where they can go to feel safe, with plenty of bedding – this will help keep noise out and provide a hiding place.

If you are having your own bonfire ensure it is nowhere near any pets. Always check underneath a bonfire before lighting as hedgehogs may be hibernating there!


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