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My pet is scared of fireworks

Do pets fear fireworks?

Yes, cats and dogs can be afraid of fireworks.

Like people, our pets have intense emotions and can suffer panic attack scenarios. These emotions can be triggered by external or internal stimuli, which can stimulate a profound reaction. This is like panic attacks in people, but is termed canine panic disorder. Stimuli triggers can be visual, smells, sounds, or tastes. Fireworks trigger all of those senses.

In some cases the pet may only respond to memory or perception of how the certain scenario made them feel. We cannot interpret true perception in dogs, but their memories are good, so even if the stimuli is not present we must consider that the memory of the stimuli or sensation of the stimuli has been caused.

What will my dog do if they are scared of fireworks?

Common signs shown are the pet trying to escape the situation that is distressing them. They experience an intense reaction which is out of context to the stimuli.

Specific signs are triggered by the ‘fight or flight’ autonomic nervous system, and include:

  • Urination

  • Defecation

  • Vocalisation

  • Salivation

  • Trembling/shivering

  • Excessive yawning

  • Random destruction behaviour

  • Escape behaviours

  • Aggression

  • Hiding

  • Loss appetite

  • Being unwilling to more/freezing

  • Increased activity or restlessness

How can I help calm my dog during a firework display?

If you know that a firework display is planned, or on peak days such as Guy Fawkes or New Years Eve, take your dog for a big walk earlier in the day.

Close all the curtains, windows and doors in the house to help reduce noise and light transmission.

Create a safe space for your dog. This could be their crate with a blanket on top or a big cardboard box with bedding and toys in it, so they can hide away from the noises.

Turn your TV or radio up loud to help dilute the noise of the fireworks.

Your presence will be calming for them- stay in and talk to your dog in a calm soothing manner. If they are settled enough you can try grooming, playing with toys or puzzle games to distract your dog from the fireworks.

How can I help calm my cat during a firework display?

Cats spook easily. It is important to lock the cat flap, all windows and doors long before any fireworks are let off to reduce the chance of your cat getting hurt if outside and scared.

Create a safe space- this could be in a cupboard or an area up high with blankets and a covered area so your cat can hide and feel safe.

Close curtains, and turn the TV up loud to help reduce the noise levels your cat can hear.

If your cat comes out of the hiding area you can try petting or soothing and playing with toys if they want- most cats who are afraid of fireworks will hide for the duration of the display.

Make sure your cat has a litterbox, water and food available. Some cats can be so scared that they will hide for a day or so after the display. Check on your cat regularly during this time.

Are there supplements or things I can buy to help my pet cope with fireworks?

Yes! There are a few natural supplements and phermone diffusers that can help.

For dogs who need a short term solution, Adaptil diffusers, Adaptil spray or an Adaptil Collar can help your pet. Start using a few days before the expected firework night to get the full effect.

For a longer lasting effect Calmex for dogs and cats is helpful, it takes a few weeks to get maximum effect so alway start these supplements at least 2-3 weeks before firework season starts. These supplements can be given long term.

For cats the Feliway diffusers for use in a whole room, or a Feliway Spray for a more contained area such as their bed is recommended.

Thundershirts can also be beneficial for dogs especially- they 'hug' the body tightly and help dogs to feel more secure.

What if my pet has severe firework anxiety?

If your pet reacts really badly to fireworks and the above suggestions are not working, talk to your veterinarian about prescription medications to help your pet cope. These medications act as sedatives so are not fixing the underlying fear, just helping your pet to get through the fearful experience.

Long term solutions include working with a veterinary behaviorist to develop a plan to desensitize your pet to fireworks. This can take a long time but is very worthwhile persisting with.

What should I do if my pet escapes during the fireworks?

Try and remain calm, and check your house and property first to make sure they are not hiding somewhere unexpected.

Search the local area, the more people who are looking the better.

Call animal control to see if your pet has been handed in, and notify the veterinary clinics in the area. Put a notification on your local community Facebook page and Pets on the Net.

Lastly make sure your pets microchip information is up to date. If your pet gets handed into the local council or veterinary clinic they will scan for a microchip first to try and reunite the pet with their owner.

Always have at least two phone numbers listed on the microchip registration information.

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