Fireworks season can be a frightening time for cats, so we asked veterinary behaviourist Dr Julie Ashton for her top tips on how to make it a less traumatic experience for our pets.
Fireworks season can be a frightening time for our pets. Although we give our dogs a lot of attention at this time, it can be just as scary for our feline friends.
Cats perceive the loud, sudden noise of fireworks as a threat and think they’re something that will cause them harm, so their natural response is to run away and hide somewhere safe. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce their anxiety. Pet owners can try these three strategies, ideally using them from around a month in advance of Bonfire Night:
Make positive associations with fireworks
One of the best ways to ensure your cat stays calm during fireworks is to get it used to the sounds – from a young age if possible. Dr Julie Ashton, veterinary behaviourist at Life on Four Legs, suggests trying the Dogs Trust Sounds Scary programme – which can be just as effective for cats as it is for dogs – to slowly introduce the sound of fireworks to your cat.
Start playing the sounds on a low volume and make sure your cat isn’t showing any signs of fear. While you play the sounds, do something positive with your cat like feeding it or playing with it. Over time, gradually increase the volume that you’re playing the fireworks noises.
‘The aim is to get to play the noises reasonably loud without there being any kind of fear response. That is the most important part of the training – you don’t want to play this noise and the cat to be worried,’ says Julie.
If your cat is showing signs of fear during the Sounds Scary programme, go back to playing the noises more quietly again for a longer time until it’s comfortable with them.
Create a safe space
Your cat’s natural reaction when frightened will be to hide somewhere safe. You can create a comforting space for your pet to hide in with something as simple as a blanket-lined cardboard box or a cosy room or cupboard.
‘If the cat doesn’t choose to go into the safe space, don’t put it in there. So, for example, if you’ve created a nice hidey hole for the cat and the cat’s choosing to go under the bed or somewhere else, don’t make the cat go into the place you’ve created for them. They might have chosen their own space and that’s absolutely fine to do,’ says Julie.
Make your house feel more relaxing for your cat by closing the blinds to block out the flashes of light from the fireworks and playing the television or radio at a normal volume to drown out some of the outside noise.
It’s also important to make sure your cat can’t get outside when it’s frightened; it might be disoriented by panic and easily become lost.
Try a pheromone diffuser
Pheromones are naturally occurring chemical ‘messages’ that all cats release to communicate with themselves or with other cats. These messages influence a cat’s behaviour. Pheromone diffusers work by dispersing a synthetic version of a cat’s naturally occurring ‘calming’ pheromone in the air.
A pheromone diffuser can be an effective way to keep your cat settled and calm during fireworks, but Julie warns that it’s important to get the placement and timing of the diffuser right.
“Make sure you put it somewhere that’s got good air flow around it,’ she says. ‘If you put it behind a bookshelf or something similar, the air won’t be able to diffuse properly. You also want to leave it on all the time, not just pop it on and off, to get the best benefits from it.’