The following article first appeared on iCatCare:
Keeping your cat safe during Halloween and Bonfire Night celebrations
In October and November celebrations for Halloween and Bonfire Night (in the UK) take place, not just on one or two evenings, but over several weeks it seems; indeed similar celebrations now also happen at New Year. Although great fun for us humans, our cats may find them both stressful and dangerous.
For us, fireworks are bright, noisy and enjoyable to watch, but for a cat they may be a new experience (and therefore make the cat wary), loud and unpredictable, and can be very frightening. Frightened cats may be startled, run away and become lost, or run across roads and be involved in accidents. Distressed cats can develop behavioural issues such as house-soiling or excessive grooming.
On nights when firework noise is present in your area, here are a few things to consider to help your cat.
- Ensure your cat is safely indoors before dark. Tempt it inside with a treat and ensure all doors, cat flaps and windows (even the small top ones) are closed to keep the cat inside but also to help keep the noise out.
Shutting your cat inside if it is not used to being restricted or called in. Some cats are not used being restricted indoors or using an indoor litter tray. If this is the case, ‘rehearse’ confinement overnight in the run-up to the event.Practise getting your cat to come to you when called. When your cat is hungry, call his name and reward approach with a tasty treat (you can do this first when the cat is indoors). If your cat is not very food motivated, you can reward it coming to you with a game it enjoys, such as with a wand toy. Once your cat has mastered coming to you when called within the home, you can extend this to the outdoors. Always be ready to reward your cat with food or play so that it learns that coming home from outdoors is rewarding. In this way, your cat will continue to be motivated to come to you.Coming indoors at night may be safer for your cat longer term, as night time is when more road accidents and cat fights occur.
- Get your cat accustomed to the sound of fireworks many weeks before the firework season. This will help it cope when hearing fireworks for real. You can obtain (via your vet or online via YouTube) audio clips of firework sounds. Play these initially at very low volumes and gauge your cat’s response. If your cat appears indifferent to the sound, you can reward this behaviour with a food treat or play, and gradually, over several days, increase the volume. If at any stage your cat seems worried by the sounds, go back a few steps and progress more slowly.
- Provide your cat with a safe and comfortable hiding place in case it is frightened. A cardboard box on its side or an igloo bed are perfect. The hideaway can be placed in an elevated location (eg, on top of a wardrobe) if your cat tends to seek high places at times of uncertainty. If your cat prefers hiding places on the ground, ensure it can get under your bed or behind the sofa. If you have purchased a new bed, help to make it smell familiar by adding some bedding which already smells of your cat.
- Don’t try to cuddle your cat to make it all OK. Treat your cat as normal, stroking it if it makes contact with you. Your cat is going to feel safest if it can hide, so preventing this by holding or cuddling for reassurance during the fireworks may be counterproductive, and your change in behaviour may even give it a reason to worry!
- Use treats and toys to distract your cat from the firework noise.
- Plug a Feliway diffuser into the room your cats spends most time in a few days before you expect any fireworks. Synthetic plug-in pheromone products (eg, Feliway, CEVA) are available from your vet and can to help cats feel more secure. Ensure it is switched on continually throughout the firework season.
- If you are holding your own display, try and light the fireworks as far away from the house as possible and choose silent or quieter fireworks if possible.
If you have a very nervous cat it is better not to use sparklers indoors as the light and hissing noise may be frightening. Even if using them outdoors make sure the burnt sparklers (which are initially very hot) are kept away from animals and children before being safely disposed of.
Bonfires which have been built sometime before burning make good hiding places for small animals such as hedgehogs, and even a cat or kitten, so check them before lighting.
Cats may be attracted to the flickering light of a candle which could result in burns to the paws or singed whiskers. The cat may even simply walk past and put its tail over the flame or knock it off a shelf, so be aware of these dangers. Using electric candles in pumpkins can minimize the risk to animals and children.
Glow sticks, made into wands or necklaces are often sold at Halloween and Bonfire Night. They are tubes made of pliable soft plastic which contain a liquid which glows in the dark. The main component of this oily liquid is dibutyl phthalate, which has a highly unpleasant taste. Even a small amount in a cat’s mouth will cause frothing and foaming with the production of lots of saliva. It may be hyperactive and show aggressive behaviour (the cat gets confused and upset by the horrible taste in its mouth). The liquid can also cause irritation to the skin and eyes.
If this happens, you can help your cat by immediately feeding small quantities of milk, canned cat food, tuna juice or other highly palatable food to dilute the chemical in the mouth and provide a more agreeable taste. If any drops have fallen on the cat’s skin or coat wash it off with water, or the cat will ingest it again when it grooms. Looking at the cat in the dark can help show up glowing areas that haven’t been washed off.
If it goes in the cat’s eyes, wash out with lots of water.
The cat usually recovers within a few minutes, but keep an eye on it to make sure it is OK and seek veterinary advice if you are worried.
Glow Stick Cases
One young cat developed foaming and frothing at the mouth immediately after chewing through a glow stick. He vomited as he had swallowed some of the bitter and unpleasant tasting solution. His owners rushed him to the vet where his mouth was washed out with water and any residual chemical was wiped off his face. Although the curious cat was quiet and sleepy for 2 hours afterwards, he was described as none the worse for his little indiscretion, although he was somewhat apprehensive about chewing unknown objects from then on!
A Bengal cat developed immediate drooling and distress after chewing a luminous necklace that had been discarded after a night out at a firework display. He pawed at his mouth and rushed around the room trying to escape the unpleasant taste in his mouth. His mouth was washed out with water and he recovered promptly with no further issues. His owners will make sure the leftover colourful necklaces are thrown away in the future.
Keeping cat safe at Halloween – decorations and chocolate
Halloween can be a fun time for adults and children alike; however, there are certain things associated with this celebration that pose a risk to our cats. Read our advice on how to keep your cats safe during this time of year.
Many of us enjoy decorating our home with spooky theme at Halloween. Cats are curious creatures and may investigate any decorations you put up. Young cats may be more likely to investigate and play with decorations, as well as indoor-only cats through boredom, if they lack enough suitable enrichment. As well as the risk of cats knocking down decorations, which may cause injury to themselves or others depending on the type of decoration, in some cases cats may even ingest (eat) them. String and string-like items are one of the most common types of foreign bodies that cats eat, according to vets, and can lead to serious problems such as causing the intestines to ‘bunch up’; surgery may be required to remove the object(s).
Therefore, decorations should be placed well out of reach of cats, and cats should always be supervised around them.
Halloween is a time when chocolatey-treats abound. Although a treat for us, chocolate contains a compound called theobromine which is toxic to most animals. Cats would have to eat a large amount for the dose of theobromine to be lethal (around 560 g milk chocolate and 140 g dark chocolate), but even a small amount can cause signs of poisoning, such as vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy, depression or hyperactivity.
Chocolate should be kept well away from cats; remember that cats are good at getting up high so it needs to be shut away somewhere they cannot access. Supervise cats carefully if you do have chocolate out where they can reach it.
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I am the feline behaviour specialist at feline charity ‘International Cat Care’. We are about engaging, educating and empowering people throughout the world to improve the health and welfare of cats by sharing advice, training and passion.