As New Year approaches, fireworks are bound to burst back into our lives once again. And while the dazzling displays are a hugely popular way to bring in the New Year, the UK’s largest veterinary charity, PDSA, is warning that they can cause fear among a large number of our pet population.
The charity – which helps more pets and owners than any other of its kind in the UK – is urging owners to prepare for the celebrations, which can last for several days in a row and potentially expose pets to a prolonged period of suffering.
The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report revealed that a vast number of dogs and cats are scared by the unexpected bangs of fireworks, citing that 4.1 million dogs and 3.3 million cats are afraid of the noise. In total, 16 per cent of rabbit owners (160,000 rabbits) also reported that their bunnies were scared of the sounds associated with fireworks.
PDSA Veterinary Surgeon Lynne James said: “We may think our pets aren’t too bothered by firework displays, however their senses are much more acute than ours. The unexpected loud bangs and sudden flashes of light can cause distress for our four-legged family members.
“There are lots of things owners can do in the short term to make fireworks less frightening for their pets. Simple steps, from creating a den to introducing soothing sounds, can go a long way to making this firework season more pleasant for pets.”
PDSA’s top tips on tackling anxiety among pets this festive firework season:
- Seek advice early – it is important to find out what works best for your pet as soon as possible. If they have previously struggled during firework displays, contact your vet for advice – they may be able to prescribe medication that can help.
- Prepare for an early night – be sure to walk your dog before it gets dark and keep your cat at home. Bring any outdoor-living pets, for example rabbits and guinea pigs, inside for the night and enjoy a cosy evening in with your furry family members.
- Secure your home – keep doors, windows, cat and dog flaps locked to ensure your pet doesn’t escape if scared.
- Create a comfortable cosy space for hideouts – ensure your pet has somewhere they feel safe and secure where they can hide if they want to. It’s important that your pet knows this is a safe place that they can escape to ahead of fireworks season. For cats and dogs, you can make the space extra cosy with blankets and their favourite toys and treats while adding pillows or cushions can help to absorb the noise. You can also lessen the sound for smaller pets by adding extra bedding into their hutches and cages so that they can hide if they want to. If your pet chooses to hide, let them do so.
- Be on hand to provide reassurance – if your pet takes comfort in attention and/or affection from you, continue to treat them as you normally would – never ignore them if they’re coming to you for support. Reassurance can only go so far though, so it is important to ensure other steps are taken to make the night as relaxing as possible.
- Keep calm with relaxing sounds – playing a soundtrack to disguise the whizzes and bangs of fireworks can help to keep your pet calm. It’s also vital that you remain as stress-free as possible to avoid worrying your pet.
- Use a pheromone plug-in – pheromones are scents that help to relax and calm pets, but we can’t smell them. They are available on the PDSA pet store.
- Make note of what your pet prefers – as fireworks occur each year, it’s important to understand how your pet copes best during the festivities. Note down what their preferred action was, for example if they hid, so that next time you can ensure they have plenty of safe spots to escape to. Likewise, if they seek reassurance, always be on hand to comfort them.
- Prepare for next year – once the celebrations are over for 2022, prepare for 2023! You can help your pet to be less anxious around fireworks season (this is called ‘desensitisation’) over a period of several months, ahead of expected celebrations.
The PAW Report also found that the vast majority of owners (82 per cent) agreed that fireworks should only be allowed on certain dates and times to enable them to prepare their pets in advance.
PDSA has created a FREE Firework Guide – packed with useful advice and tips – to assist owners with planning ahead of celebrations.