How to keep your pets safe and calm during Bonfire Night
We might love a good fireworks display, but our furry friends are usually less appreciative of the loud noises. Here are our top tips on keeping them calm during the Bonfire Night celebrations.
By Faith Richardson
Bonfire Night might be looking a little bit different this year thanks to Covid shutting down some of our favourite displays. But with supermarkets still selling fireworks to the public, it’s pretty much a guarantee that the weeks surrounding the 5th of November will be full of bangs, lights and unusual noises that can make even the most chilled out pet a little on edge, so we’ve found some of the best tips out there to help keep your cats, dogs, small animals and even your horses safe and sound during a stressful time.
Create a Safe Space
Particularly for your cats and dogs, having a safe space to escape to if they’re feeling anxious is so important for them. Make sure it’s dark and as soundproofed as possible so they can get away from the noise and lights. Cardboard boxes are ideal for cats and small dogs, but you can also set up a crate with heavy blankets draped over it, an under the stairs cupboard, or downstairs toilet full of their favourite blankets and toys. Make sure they’re never shut in where they can’t get out though – they might decide they’d rather be with you and being shut in somewhere can be just as stressful for them! For small animals, cover their cage with a blanket (leaving enough of a gap for them to still see out) and make sure all curtains and windows are shut to block out as much noise as possible. When it comes to your outdoor animals (like horses and donkeys), keep them somewhere they’re usually safe and familiar with, whether it’s a stable where they can see their friends, or out in the field. Just make sure everything is as secure as possible, such as haynets, fence posts and gates so they can’t hurt themselves if they do panic.
Make Sure They’re Secured
Similarly, make sure your home and garden are as secure as possible. Even the most laid-back dog can be startled whilst out in the garden and try and make a break for it. Some of the worst accidents happen when a dog is frightened and bolting, so try to ensure they don’t have access to an open door when people are coming and going, and they’re supervised in the gardens. Keep cats indoors as much as possible, and shut all windows to prevent them making a frightened dash for the great outdoors.
This is an essential no matter what type of animal you have. Keeping a radio or TV turned on with some music or people talking can do wonders to help block out the noise of the fireworks and provide something calming and normal for them to relax with. If you’re planning on heading out for the evening, keep the volume as loud as you can to muffle it without being too deafening for your furry pals. Spotify has a great playlist for dogs that’s full of people talking, calming music and general household sounds to help soothe them. A radio being left on in a stable block works great for your equines, and even your guinea pigs will appreciate some calming classical music or the sound of your tv helping to distract them from the loud bangs.
Keep Outdoor Activities Daytime Only
Try to avoid doing anything with your pets after the sun’s gone down. Keep dog walks to daylight hours and let your cats out during the day and ensure they’re back home (when possible – we know cats don’t exactly love a schedule) before it gets too dark and the fireworks start. Similarly, try and make sure your dog’s night time, pre-bed wees are as early as possible, and if you do take them out in the garden after dark, consider popping their lead on to make sure you’ve got a safe hold on them if they do get scared and run for it. Try and get horses ridden in the day when possible – there’s nothing worse than horse taking off when it’s scared, and once the evening comes the air will be more likely to be filled with surprising bangs and flashing lights which even the most bombproof horse might have a spook at.
Distract, Distract, Distract
Just like the background noise, distraction with toys and treats is always a good idea to take your furry friend’s mind off the noises. Playing with a new toy, giving them a long-lasting chew like a bone, setting up brain teasers or teaching a new trick are great for keeping a dog’s mind active, whilst cats might appreciate playing with a new string toy or a different treat than they might usually get. Smaller animals would benefit from things to keep them busy too, like bits of vegetables, mirrors and small toys, whilst horses can be distracted with treat balls, or some apples bobbing in their water bucket. The greatest distraction for them though is usually your presence – if they see you relaxed and calm, they’ll usually feel much safer and calmer, and they can use the time to bond with you over games and treats. Consider staying at the stables with your horses until the worst of the fireworks have stopped (don’t forget to wrap up warm and bring snacks!) or enjoy your usual nighttime routine with your cats and dogs to keep things as normal as possible for them.
Prepare for Next Year
Inevitably, every year people suddenly realise their pets are nervous and anxious this time of year. Whilst the above tips are great in the short term, a much better long term solution is to begin proper desensitisation and training, so next year you can all have a stress-free Bonfire Night. Speak to your vet or a trainer about the different ways you can begin to desensitise your pets to the sounds of fireworks, so next year you can get on with enjoying the show. Battersea Dogs Home also has some great tips here to help you get started.