Bonfire Night and the end-of-year festivities may be fun for us, but these noisy celebrations are often frightening for our furry friends. So we’ve rounded up five ways to help you keep your cat or dog calm and happy throughout the silly season.
Loud, unexpected sounds, like thunder, sirens and fireworks, are enough to scare anyone. And when you take pets’ exceptional hearing into account, it’s clear that the bangs, bursts and shrieks in the run-up to Guy Fawkes Night or New Year’s Eve can be especially distressing for them.
To understand why, you should first consider your cat or dog’s survival instincts. In the wild, an abrupt sound would almost certainly indicate danger, and an animal’s instinctual ‘fight-or-flight’ response could help them to either escape, or confront, the threat. While noisy fireworks don’t pose the same life-threatening risk to pet, their instincts are still as deeply ingrained – which explains why some might run away (‘flight’), while others could become aggressive (‘fight’).
This fear response creates a flood of activity within your cat or dog’s body: your pet’s heart rate increases, and the release of fear-triggered hormones such as adrenaline could cause them to become hypersensitive or extremely alert. In this anxious state, your pet might then withdraw or lash out to cope with this sudden onset of bewildering symptoms.
We understand that as a caring pet owner you hate to see your cat or dog in distress. So how can you prevent this unnecessary anxiety? We have five ways to help your pet to cope with fireworks and any other frights:
Cats are creatures of habit, and thrive on the familiar – which means that yours is unlikely to take to a new space you’ve created for her straight away, no matter how cosy it may seem. Instead, try to make your kitty’s usual hiding spot as comforting and soundproof as possible. You can do this by adding her favourite blanket and toy to the space, and using blankets or thick curtains to muffle sounds from outside.
Your dog might be more receptive to a spot that’s created especially for him. Ensure that this is comfortable, but hidden away, and is filled with familiar items. You may also want to choose a room with double-glazed windows, which will minimise noise.
Both your cat and dog will appreciate having unwanted sounds filtered out by the everyday chatter of the radio or the TV. Try turning yours on at a low volume, and keep in mind that the more familiar the sound is to your pet, the more comforting it’s likely to be.
To help prevent anxiety in your pets, you should bring them inside during firework season and keep your doors and windows firmly shut. And it’s just as important to make sure that your pet has a comforting presence to rely on during this time. While they’ll prefer to be with you, it might not always be possible to be at home, so enlisting the help of an experienced pet sitter can help.
To really ensure that your pets have nothing to worry about, introduce them to the sitter on at least two or three other occasions and make sure to incorporate some fun playtime during these sessions. That way, your cat or dog will associate the sitter with happy memories and is sure to feel more at ease.
Happily, there are now great products on the market to help your pet remain calm. A plug-in pheromone diffuser is one such gadget available from your veterinary practice, and works by releasing synthetic versions of your pet’s natural feel-good pheromones. (Pheromones are chemical substances produced by an animal, which can affect their behaviour. For example, a mother cat or dog will produce certain types of pheromones to soothe her litters while they’re suckling.) There are versions that work specifically for cats or for dogs, and that are tailored to the kind of calming effect you’re seeking.
Another great invention is the Sounds Scary treatment programme, available to download for free from dogstrust.co.uk . It works by initially playing loud noises, such as fireworks, at a low volume, and slowly increasing the sound until your pet becomes accustomed to, and eventually completely comfortable with, these noises.
- 4. Find the right balance
It might be your natural impulse to fuss over your pets as soon as they show the first sign of distress, but some experts believe that reacting this way to every yelp or mew could ‘reward’ fearful behaviour. If this is the case, your pet could start to associate all loud, scary noises with your positive attention – leading to a vicious cycle.
Instead, aim to get the balance right. Give your pet space to hide if they need to, and give them the comfort they need should they seek it, but keep your own behaviour as normal as possible throughout. This way your cat or dog will learn from your reactions that there’s nothing to fear. If you do sense that it’s necessary to interact with your pets to help calm them, try a distraction technique – such as a game involving a favourite toy instead.
If you’ve tried all of these tricks before, and nothing seems to ease your pet’s anxiety, it may be worth exploring professional sound therapy with a clinical animal behaviourist for long-lasting results. Visit apbc.org.uk to find one, or ask us to recommend someone in your area.
In the meantime, you could also speak to us about ways to keep your cat or dog calm on nights that you know will be especially noisy. Arrange an appointment with us today to discuss your pet’s options.