Bonfire Night is a seasonal tradition and a sign of celebration. At this time of year, wrapping up warm to watch a stunning spectacle in the sky is an event to look forward to. But for dogs, fireworks can be a frightening experience. In fact, nearly half (45%) of pooches show signs of fear when they hear loud displays.
While it’s lovely to share certain special moments with our furry friends, it’s important that they enjoy it with us. Whether you’re letting off fireworks in your garden, or simply watching from the window this fireworks night, the experts at Canagan, the grain-free pet food specialists, offer their tips on keeping your dog calm, before and during, a display so you can both enjoy the fireworks season.
Why do pets fear fireworks?
Like all wild animals, dogs & cats instinctively associate loud noises with danger. Therefore, unexpected bangs or flashes from a fireworks display can leave them feeling stressed and scared.
Both dogs & cats possess an acute sense of hearing, which means the sound is amplified – and the intervals between displays can seem even louder and more shocking than they can do to humans.
How do they react to fireworks?
Dogs will instinctively run, without direction or thought. However, this feeling of anxiety may also manifest as restlessness, such as trembling, barking, panting, pacing, whining and howling. Very unsettled dogs will act out, digging at the door, soiling the premises or destroying their owners’ belongings.
Preparing your cat for fireworks season
- De-sensitise them to loud noises in advance: Start playing firework sounds quietly while you’re playing with them in the home, offering treats every so often. Over time, slightly increase the volume so they become more used to the sound. Eventually, your cat will feel safe, and will only think of fun, happy moments when they hear the loud bangs around Guy Fawkes Night
- Keep them indoors: To ensure your pet doesn’t feel scared, get injured or even lost, keep your cat indoors and settle them down at home, in familiar surroundings, with a litter tray close by
- Draw the curtains: Fireworks flashing across the skies can distress and distract cats, so shut out the light to create a relaxing environment
- Escape-proof your home: Close all doors and windows, then block off the cat flap. This will prevent your cat from running away, and also help to muffle the noises coming from outside. If you’re hosting, with people coming-and-going from the house, make it clear that external doors must be opened and shut swiftly to avoid your feline friend making their exit. Secure the garden too, just in case.
How to keep your cat calm during a display
- Create a ‘safe space’ in your home: Whether it’s a cardboard box or under furniture, create a comfortable space to which they can retreat and relax
- Let them decide where to hide: Don’t be concerned if your cat escapes to a dark hidey-hole where they feel safe. Don’t try to pull them out of this little sanctuary, as it will only cause undue stress and it’s best for your pet to stay as calm as possible throughout the evening
- Avoid picking them up: If your cat is feeling distressed, picking them up may cause them to lash out
- Give them time: Even if you think the fireworks are over, remember that your cat’s acute hearing may mean they’re listening to far-off bangs and fizzes, so they may not re-appear right away. Cats take a while to calm down, so wait until morning before you start interacting with them. They’ll emerge when they’re ready, so just have food and water waiting
Preparing your dog for fireworks season
- De-sensitise them to loud noises in advance: Start playing firework sounds quietly while you’re playing with them in the home, offering treats every so often. Over time, slightly increase the volume. Eventually, your dog will feel safe and will only think of fun, happy moments when they hear the real sound of fireworks
- Engage in activity during the day: Exercise with your dog during the day – whether it’s a long walk, or playing frisbee or fetch – so when the fireworks start, they’re almost too sleepy to notice
- Let them out early: For most of the year it’s against the law to set fireworks off after 11pm. However, this curfew is extended to midnight on Guy Fawkes Night. To ensure your pooch enjoys a full night’s sleep, ensure they have gone to the toilet and eaten before bed. Introduce this earlier regime in the days leading up to your local display so they adjust
- Keep them indoors: To prevent your dog from feeling distressed, or get lost or injured, settle them down at home, in familiar surroundings
- Create a ‘safe space’ in your home: Whether it’s their bed with blankets and soft toys, or a table covered with a sheet, create a comforting space to which they can retreat and relax
- Let them decide where to settle: While your designated ‘safe space’ may look appealing, your pet may prefer snuggling next to you. If you confine your pet to one place, they may grow distressed or hurt themselves trying to flee should they be spooked by your local display
- Draw the curtains: Fireworks flashing across the skies can scare and distract dogs, so shut out the light to create a relaxing environment
- Escape-proof your home: Close all doors and windows, then secure any escape routes in the garden. If you’re hosting, with people coming and going from the house, make it clear that external doors must be opened and shut swiftly to avoid your furry friend making their exit
- A collar and micro-chip are a must: If your dog does dash, a collar with your details and an up-to-date micro-chip will ensure they can easily be traced back to you
How to keep your dog calm during a display
- Mask the sound: Playing the TV or radio – classical music for example is proven to calm dogs – will reduce the impact of loud noises
- Distract them with their favourite food: After each loud blast, hand-feed your dog a tasty snack. Not only will this be a distraction, but they’ll learn to associate a loud blast with a positive experience
- A long-lasting chew toy: Stuffing a chew toy with food will keep their attention and offer a delicious end to the evening
- Act natural: Animals are perceptive, so sense if you’re behaving unusually. If you’re overly affectionate, they may feel unsettled so reassure them by inviting play
- If they join you outside, use a lead: If you’d prefer your dog to accompany you during a fireworks display, keep them close at a leash. Your presence will reassure them, while you’ll have peace of mind knowing they won’t run away. Never tie a fearful dog outdoors and leave them alone. Your pooch may start to experience separation anxiety that’s only intensified by the unexpected, loud noises
- Avoid leaving them alone at home, if possible: Arrange a sitter to look after your dog if you have plans. If you return and your frightened pet has made a mess, don’t shout, as this will only cause confusion and distress. Otherwise, firework displays are just as impressive from a distance!
Huddling by the bonfire with delicious hot food is another highlight of an autumn evening outdoors. If your pet is by your side, it’s all too tempting to slip them a tasty treat. But, did you know that one hot dog for a 9kg dog breed, like a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, is the caloric equivalent of three hamburgers to a person?
However, some of our favourite festive snacks can be hazardous to our furry friends, and the truth is, we don’t often stop to consider the ramifications a titbit can have on our dogs’ weight, breathing and overall health. Here are some of our winter BBQ favourites that you should be wary of your dog consuming:
- Corn–on–the–cob: If eaten by your dog, corn-on-the-cob can obstruct their throat or digestive tract due to the shape and volume, which can cause choking. If you’re concerned, contact your vet or an out-of-hours clinic for immediate assistance
- Onions: Many people relish the idea of burgers and hot dogs loaded with fried onions for extra flavour. However, shallots, onions, garlic and scallions contain a toxic element called Allium that can harm your dog’s red blood cells if sufficiently ingested. Damage does not generally become apparent for three to five days after a dog ingest the food, but symptoms may include weakness, reluctance to move, fatigue and darkly coloured urine. Again, seek veterinary assistance immediately if you’re concerned
- Toffee apples: Sugary treats that we may enjoy on such occasions are a no-no for your pet. Xylitol can be found in candied items such as toffee apples and candy floss, which can cause your dogs blood sugar levels to drop and worst case, damage to their livers. Early symptoms include vomiting so keep an eye out if you suspect they’ve eaten any sweet items
If fireworks are causing your dog high levels of anxiety, seek advice from a behaviourist. De-sensitising your pet to loud noises and flashes takes time and keeping them comfortable is key in protecting their wellbeing, as well as maintaining calm behaviour. Please make sure they aren’t sneaking a taste of your winter-warming foods either. This is a fun time of year so ensure your dog doesn’t lose their spark.