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Dogs and fireworks: help your pets feel safe around Bonfire Night

Why are dogs scared of fireworks? Joanna Melville of Doorstep Vet explains – and shares her top tips for keeping pets safe during fireworks season.

Written by Becky Hardy
Published 21.10.2023

Bonfire Night. For many of us, it’s the official ringing in of the holiday season.

Spooky season is behind us and with the crackling sparklers and spinning Catherine Wheels comes with the promise of frosted nights, twinkling lights and all the magic of Christmas.

It’s an exciting time for us. But for our pets, it can be a very different story.

The bright flashes and loud bangs of fireworks can be disorientating, confusing and, often, quite frightening for the animals in our lives.

But while we can’t control who lets off fireworks around us and when, we can take precautionary steps to make sure our pets feel safe, happy and healthy in their home – as Joanna Melville of Doorstep Vet explains.

Doorstep Vet UK

WHY ARE DOGS SCARED OF FIREWORKS?

Bonfire Night can be distressing to many pets, but dogs and fireworks are often the most difficult mix.

Why?

Well, fireworks are loud. And we all know how well some dogs can hear – all you have to do is open a food wrapper in another room and they’ll come running through. So, you can imagine how sensitive they are to great, big booming firecrackers overhead.

And while we may be expecting fireworks to go off around 5th November, dogs have no time reference. Imagine getting ready for bed on a night you think is just like any other, only for all this commotion to happen. You’d be confused and on edge, too.

Doorstep Vet UK

The noise and unpredictability can cause many dogs to perceive fireworks as a threat – which triggers their fight-or-flight response. You may notice your dog barking at the noises or trying to run away and hide. In fact, more dogs run away on Bonfire Night in the UK than at any other time of year.

The problem, though, is that fireworks can still seem inescapable to a dog. If you live in a densely populated, urban area where there are lots of fireworks going off around you, it doesn’t matter where you dog runs to – they can’t out-run what is overhead. And when they’re trapped in the house (for their own safety) during the fireworks displays, they can feel as though there’s no escaping the loud booms all around them.

This is why you may find dogs scared of fireworks shaking or displaying other signs of anxiety, such as restlessness, panting, pacing or whining.

DOGS AND FIREWORKS – WHAT YOU CAN DO

Before Bonfire Night – Create a safe space

‘For dogs (and cats) to cope with the firework season, it’s ideal to provide your pet with a safe space,’ Joanna explains.

‘This could be a crate, a quiet area, somewhere under furniture (for dogs) or on top of cupboards or wardrobes (for cats). When your pet is settled in this area, leave them there undisturbed.

‘Leave some of your pet’s bedding or a piece of your clothing in the area too, along with a toy – although it’s best to put other toys away when not in use to encourage a positive response and to prevent boredom.

‘Start encouraging your pet into this area every evening before fireworks season has properly begun, so they start getting used to the space,’ Joanna continues. ‘It’s best to ensure this area is always accessible to allow your pet to explore and use at will.

‘Then, when fireworks do start going off, your pet may be more likely to choose to go into their safe space.’

Doorstep Vet UK

During Fireworks Season – err on the side of caution

Joanna shares her top tips for keeping pets calm and collected around Bonfire Night:

  1. Walk your dog during daylight to prevent the risk of walking when fireworks are likely to be set off.
  2. Ensure all your windows and doors are securely closed to prevent your pet from escaping.
  3. Allow your pet access to plenty of spaces within the home so they have options to choose somewhere they feel safe.
  4. Draw your curtains to block out any flashes of light and help to muffle the sounds of fireworks.
  5. Find suitable fireworks sounds for dogs. Play some music or put the TV on to drown out the booms and bangs. If you have an Alexa, ask Alexa to ‘relax my dog’.
  6. Comfort and reassure your pet if they come to you. Calmly give them attention ‘as normal’ and not over the top. Ignoring them won’t help.
  7. Use calming sprays or diffusers to help relax your pet.
  8. Consider using a thunder shirt to help reduce stress.
  9. Try and behave normally to show your pet there is nothing to be concerned about.
Doorstep Vet North East Joanna Melville Dogs and Fireworks Advice

WHEN TO SEE YOUR VET

While all of Joanna’s tips above should certainly be tried first, some animals may still be severely affected by fireworks season.

If trialling these suggestions doesn’t work for your pet, it could be that they need anti-anxiety medication, prescribed by their vet, to help them cope.

‘If you feel like your pet may need additional support to cope with Bonfire Night, preparation is key,’ Joanna explains.

‘Leaving it until the last minute to talk to your vet isn’t a good idea, as there are no “quick fixes”. Medication may need to be trialled before fireworks season really gets into full swing, as not all animals react the same to certain treatments.’

So, give yourself and your pet plenty of time – think ahead to Bonfire Night, consider how your pet may realistically cope, and put the plans in place to support them as fully as you can.

If you’re in any way unsure what to do for the best, or if you feel that your pet’s anxiety during fireworks season will put them in danger, please talk to your vet or veterinary nurse for advice.

 

For more information on how Doorstep Vet can help – or for any further tips on keeping your pets safe around Bonfire Night – visit their website

You can also follow Doorstep Vet on Facebook and Instagram

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