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How to plan ahead and make Bonfire Night fireworks more bearable for your cat, dog, or rabbit

How to plan ahead and make Bonfire Night fireworks more bearable for your cat, dog, or rabbit

Bonfire Night is often a great way to inject some family fun into the waning days, but there are some members of your family who might not be quite so keen on the festivities. Petplan takes a look at how you can make your home more pet friendly on Bonfire night.

Your pets, especially cats, rabbits, and dogs, lack the mental acuity to understand what is actually happening. Those bright flashes, screeching rockets, and thundering bangs would be enough to frighten anyone.

Your pet’s reactions to these sights and sounds will often be manifested in anxious and stressed behaviour and you may experience them trying to run away and hide in a corner, toileting in the house, refusing to eat, trembling, or general destructive behaviour.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way, and there are plenty of ways you can reduce the stress experienced by your four-legged friends. They probably won’t have an enjoyable experience, but you can certainly improve their tolerance for such an occasion.

Desensitisation therapy

This is actually a relatively straightforward treatment that will allow your pet to accept more of the loud noises and bright lights without panicking, ultimately allowing them to cope better with the fireworks season.

Due to dogs’ capacity for learning through experiences, this treatment definitely works best on them. You can start by accessing YouTube and introducing them to the sights and sounds of fireworks over a gradual period of time. The ideal length of training should be roughly six weeks.

It also helps to teach your dog to sit calmly, this can be anywhere, but a comfortable bed or mat works best. If you can give your pets this safe space and allow them to associate it with comfort and calm then it will be much easier to get them to endure the night. Denning is a natural instinct for dogs and spaces such as a dog crate covered with sheets and filled with familiar bedding will create a space the dog is inclined to go to, provided it’s safe and practical.

Once your dog is comfortable you can play the sounds at a very low volume so that they can settle, this first session doesn’t need to be too intense or long, but with each subsequent session try increasing the volume and length of time ever so slightly until you think they have achieved a reasonable level of tolerance. It’s always good to combine this sound method with a stuffed food toy or a very high value bone that can be given with supervision and removed once the session stops.

It’s important not to turn it up to the point that your dog notices it and shows stress-based behaviours. If this happens, turn the volume down and start at a level your dog can cope with. The process requires time and patience, it also may need to be repeated each year, but if your pet is receptive to the treatment then it’s a great way to help them get comfortable.

Synthetic pheromones

Synthetic pheromones aren’t particularly effective for heightened cases of anxiety and stress but if your pet displays only a mild reaction to fireworks then this is a cheap and simple way to manage that reaction.

Sprays and diffusers for your pets, and even collars for dogs, can release scents that make your pet feel safe. For dogs it is the pheromones a mother would produce to keep her puppies safe or for cats it’s similar to the way they rub their face on your furniture to mark it as safe.

Either way, the end result is to give your pet that extra sense of safety and security and should be introduced to your home one or two weeks before the big night or to use them across a few weeks as fireworks can last that long.

What to do about fireworks?

Nowadays, it’s more common that the fireworks will not be limited to November 5th. In fact, it’s much more likely that they will be going on for the duration of the week.

Here are a few simple bullet points to help you cope with this occasion.

  • Keep your pets inside, it may sound obvious but you’d be surprised how often people forget this golden rule
  • Try to soundproof your home as much as possible. Anything that can limit noise from the outside is a great way to keep you pet calm
  • Provide some background noise of your own, whether that’s TV, radio, or music -anything to subvert the noise from outside will go a long way
  • Don’t leave them alone. Just like humans, when scared, animals will seek comfort in the company of others

Keeping your dog calm:

  • Try to exercise them on a walk before the noise begins. This will help to burn off any excess energy and hopefully keep them calmer
  • Praise your dog’s calmness and don’t comfort their fear. This might sound harsh but the positive reinforcement works best and comforting their fear encourages them to think that it’s okay to be scared
  • Play a game to keep their focus elsewhere
  • Prepare somewhere safe for them to retreat to if they need to. Plenty of blankets and toys will help them to relax

Keeping your cat calm:

  • Cats like to hide when scared. Make sure none of their favourite hiding spaces are blocked but don’t attempt to coax them out and reward their behaviour
  • Ensure you have a litter tray set up, as they will be reticent to journey outside
  • Do not try to pick them up or restrain them in any way. When scared, cats prefer solitude and there’s a risk they may try to defend themselves if you interfere

Keeping your rabbit calm:

  • If you have an outdoor hutch, bring it inside if possible or place it in the garage
  • Provide them with extra bedding, this will allow them to burrow and increase their feelings of comfort and security
  • Cover the hutch with blankets, or turn it to face a wall. This will limit both their exposure to the bright flashes and the thundering booms
  • Put them in their hutch earlier. If they are able to settle down at an earlier time than usual they will feel safer once the festivities begin

Are you planning anything for Bonfire Night this year? How do you protect your pets? Let us know in the comments below…

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