It’s the time of year that is synonymous with wrapping up warm, toffee apples, sparklers, roaring bonfires, and fireworks. Whilst Bonfire night can be a great way of marking this significant date in our country’s history, “ Remember, remember the 5th of November”, it is not always so great for our pets – large or small, they can all find the bright lights and loud noises of Bonfire Night pretty scary. It’s estimated that 45 percent of dogs in the UK show signs of fear when they hear fireworks and I imagine that figure must be pretty representative for most animal species. The good news is that implementing some simple ideas can help reduce your pet’s anxiety.
Just like you, my priority is always making sure that our treasured animals are safe so I thought I would just put a little guide together for keeping our furry friends safe and calm on Bonfire Night. The priority should be to try to make them feel secure and do your best to muffle the sight and sound of the fireworks as much as possible. It is worth remembering that our animals’ hearing is much more sensitive than ours and, according to the Blue Cross the noise from the fireworks can cause them actual pain.
Cats and Dogs
For animals that live in the house such as cats and dogs, make sure any outside time or walks take place early in the day whilst it is still light and that any cat or dog flaps are securely closed well before dark so that your pet is safe at home and can’t turn tail in a blind panic and get lost or disorientated. (It sounds obvious but never take your dog to a firework display, even if they do not seem unduly bothered by them.) To muffle the sight and sound of the fireworks make sure all the windows and curtains are shut and it can be a good idea to have a TV programme on or music playing softly as a distraction from the fireworks. Remember that your pet may still feel insecure and might go off to hide somewhere in the house, don’t be cross with them for feeling anxious, just reassure them calmly and leave them in their hiding place until they feel brave enough to come out. In actual fact it is a great idea to create some hiding places around the house where they can feel safe – a little den with their blanket or some clothes that smell of you and a few of their favourite toys to add to the feeling of security. If you are worried about how your cat or dog may react to fireworks chat to your vet about a pheromone diffuser which can help create a calming environment (this needs to be plugged in a few days in advance)
- Don’t take your dog to a fireworks display
- Keep your cats and dogs in the house
- Ideally stay at home with your pet
- Close windows, curtains and catflaps
- Have some background noise to distract from the fireworks
- Create “safe haven” dens for your pet to hide in
- Don’t be cross with your pet for being anxious or making a mess
- Comfort your pet calmly and let them express their anxiety or hide away
- Keep calm – your pet will pick up on your anxiety
Horses and larger animals
Bonfire Night can be a worrying time for us horse owners. When something startles a flight animal their first instinct is to run and, if a horse gets into a blind panic, that is when problems can occur. The first thing to do is try and find out whether any bonfires are taking place near your yard. If so you can make the organisers aware that there are horses nearby and, at the very least, request that it is held as far away from your horses as possible and that the fireworks are set off in the opposite direction.
It is preferable to keep your horse in his own environment and in his usual routine where possible but if your horse is very anxious and a display will be taking place close by, you may want to consider moving him to a quieter place for a few days (easier said than done I know!). Wherever your horse will be spending the night, have a good check around for potential hazards – check the stable for any nails or loose baling twine, if you use haynets hang them high and remove any other things that may cause injury. If your horse will be out in the field, check that all the fencing is secure and, as with the stabled horse, remove anything from the field that could cause injury. If your horse is used to it, keeping a radio on as well as the lights can help minimise anxiety.
You may want to stay with your horse whilst the fireworks are going off, to try and keep him calm but remember to be mindful of your safety. A panicking horse can be a dangerous one, if your horse bolts don’t try to stop him. In cases where you know your horse will react badly to the fireworks investigate some of the calmers on the market (it is wise to experiment with these before Bonfire Night to see what works for your horse) and give them for a few days beforehand. Or you can talk to your vet about possible sedation if you are really worried, but in these cases I would definitely advise you to stay with your horse throughout the firework display and until the sedation has fully worn off.
We mustn’t forget our smaller furry friends either. Animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and birds can get very frightened by fireworks too. You can help them by bringing outdoor hutches into a shed or garage or even into the house but remember that your outdoor living pets won’t be used to central heating! If it isn’t possible to move the hutch inside you can turn it around so it faces a wall or fence and it is a good idea to cover both hutches and aviaries with a blanket to muffle the loud noises and bright lights but make sure there is still adequate ventilation. By providing extra bedding your little buddy can burrow into it, creating a nest for himself so he can feel more secure.
We need to remember oor wildlife friends too so always check any bonfires for hedgehogs and the like before they are lit. I hope this little check list has been helpful and maybe given one or two tips that you might not have thought of. I wish you and your four-legged furry family a very happy and safe Bonfire Night!