Many cats are afraid of fireworks, but there are a number of strategies you can try to ease their anxiety. We asked veterinary behaviourist Dr Julie Ashton for her top tips on looking after your cat on Bonfire Night.
Fireworks season can be a frightening time for our pets. Although we tend to give our dogs a lot of attention at this time, cats and fireworks can also be an unhappy combination.
Many cats are frightened of loud noises, and that includes fireworks. Cats perceive the sudden bangs, whooshes and flashes of light as a threat that might cause them harm, so in many cases their natural response is to run away and hide somewhere safe. Fortunately, there are ways to help reduce a cat’s stress and anxiety at this time of year. You can try these three strategies to help a cat that is scared of fireworks – ideally from at least a month in advance of Bonfire Night or other noisy festivities:
Gradually reduce your cat’s fear of fireworks
One of the best ways to keep your cat calm during fireworks is to get them used to the sound – 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 or playing with them. Over time, gradually increase the volume at which you’re playing the fireworks noise.
‘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 fireworks noises more quietly again for a longer time until they’re more comfortable with these sounds.
Create a safe space for your cat during fireworks
A cat scared by fireworks will usually want to retreat somewhere safe and quiet. You can create a comforting space for your pet to hide in with something as simple as a blanket-lined cardboard box, a cupboard or a cosy room.
‘If the cat doesn’t choose to go into the safe space, don’t put them in there. So, for example, if you’ve created a nice hidey-hole for the cat and the cat is instead 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 on Bonfire Night by closing the curtains or blinds to block out the flashes of light from the fireworks. If your cat is generally comfortable with television or radio sound, try playing one of these 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 they are frightened; they might be disoriented by panic and easily become lost. As an extra precaution, always make sure your cat is microchipped, and the microchip details are fully up to date.
Try a pheromone diffuser
To help soothe your cat on Bonfire Night, you could consider using a feline 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 help keep your cat 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.’
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