Bonfire Night

Remember, remember … last year when Fido spent several nights quaking behind the sofa and Kitty refused to go outside for a week? Hmm, yes, Bonfire Night – loved by many, hated by almost as many.

While some pets barely flinch at the sight and sound of a firework, for others the loud bangs, squeals and flashes trigger anxiety and can leave animals shaking with fear. It’s a very difficult time of year for owners as they try their best to shield their beloved fur babies from the inevitable upset. The PDSA report that, according to their owners, 40% of dogs and 34% of cats are scared of fireworks.

Animals have much more sensitive senses than ours and, coupled with this, they obviously have no idea what’s going on! It’s not like with a child when you can forewarn them that there’s going to be a loud noise and pop some ear defenders on. You also can’t explain that Bonfire Night’s coming up – I mean, you could sit down and go through the history of the Gunpowder Plot but it’d go in one furry ear and straight out of the other. So, that leaves us with one option – and that’s to try and minimise the trauma and make the night as comfortable as possible for them.

I say night … it can go on for days. When Bonfire Night falls midweek, fireworks displays (both public and private) can often span two weekends and the whole of the week, too. The good news is, this year 5th November is a Friday so most bonfires and fireworks displays are likely to happen that weekend of 5th – 7th November (not exclusively, but I’d expect the majority to). This makes it easier to be prepared and keep nervous pets safely indoors and out of harm’s way.

So, what can you do to help?

– Walk your dog before nightfall, as displays won’t start until it goes dark. If this isn’t possible then you’d be better to skip the walk that evening rather than dragging a terrified Fido round the fields – that won’t do anyone any good.

– Close windows and doors, lock cat flaps and keep your pets inside. This will help to keep the sound out and also prevent your pet from doing a runner if they get scared.

– Close blinds and curtains too, to further dull the sounds and hide the big, bright flashes (if you want to look out of the window to ‘oooh’ and ‘aahh’ then do it from a different room!)

– Create a safe space or den for your pet, by draping a blanket over Fido’s crate or putting Kitty’s bed in a large cardboard box surrounded by blankets. You could even make them their own cosy little space in a cupboard. Introduce this safe-haven to them a few days prior to Bonfire Night and make sure they know it’s their retreat.

– Muffle the sounds outside by having familiar sounds inside, like the TV or music on (but don’t try to completely down out the noise by suddenly blasting out Death Metal at full volume all evening, you might terrify your poor pooch!)

– Follow their lead (not literally … I don’t mean they should be taking you for a walk!) but respect their wishes. They may want to be left alone, in which case leave them in their safe space. Or, they may seek comfort from you – if they do, then give them plenty of cuddles, reassurance and affection. Cats especially shouldn’t be restrained if they’re anxious, they like to find their own way of dealing with things, often preferring to be somewhere up high. Just keep an eye on them to make sure they’re safe and not trapped anywhere.

– Bring the cages or hutches of outdoor animals indoors, or place their hutch in a garage or shed and cover with a breathable blanket. Add some extra bedding so that they can build themselves a little nest to hide in if they’re scared.

There are a couple of ‘what not to do’s, too:

– Don’t get angry or admonish your pet. Even if it’s frustrating or if their fear is affecting your plans – they can’t help it and they’re not doing it on purpose. They need your support not punishment, as that will only make them more afraid and anxious.

– This is easier said than done (I’ve said it before, and I’ve no doubt I’ll say it again…!) but try to stay calm. Animals pick up on your anxiety so if you’re stressed it’ll add to their worries. Try not to worry in advance about Bonfire Night and how your pet may react – act like it’s any normal evening.

There are various products available that can help animals with anxiety, including sprays and pheromone plug-ins that distribute calming scents (we can’t smell them – don’t worry, they won’t make your house stink!). You can also buy weighted anxiety wraps or vests which use pressure touch therapy to relief stress, much like a big hug really! Although scientific studies are lacking, they do anecdotally have some good results. In severe cases, pet behavioural therapy can help, too. If you have concerns about your pet’s anxiety and it’s having a negative effect on their life and health (or yours) – whether it’s to do with Bonfire Night, separation anxiety or any other issue – get in touch and we’ll do all we can to help.

If you’ve got a new pup or a kitten and you’re worried about the impending Bonfire Night and how they may react, don’t be! You’re in the ideal situation as while they’re young you’ve got the opportunity to get them used to the noises and flashes, and teach them there’s nothing to fear. While I’d strongly advise against doing anything as extreme as taking them along to a firework display to condition them, some slow, careful exposure to noises can help. You can buy CDs or play fireworks displays online or on the TV, starting them off quietly and gradually getting louder. Or, clatter some pots and pans around and let your four-pawed baby investigate them, so they can see that loud noises aren’t necessarily to be feared.

Of course, it’s not only pets that are affected by Bonfire Night – if you’re having a bonfire in the garden please check for hedgehogs, squirrels, birds and any other wildlife that may be hiding in there before you light it and make sure that fireworks are not set off near any local livestock. If you’re planning a display it’s a good idea to forewarn local farmers and any neighbours with pets so that they can ensure their animals are safe.

Until next time, enjoy the ‘ooohs’ and ‘aahhs’ and stay safe.