I hate this time of year, as not everyone is responsible and considers the welfare of pets (including their own), let alone obeys the laws when it comes to the use of fireworks and fire crackers. Ironically most people don’t know what Guy Fawkes is all about and I won’t bore you with the details (click on the Guy Fawkes link for more info), yet they still insist on callously letting off fireworks and fire crackers in the name of “fun”, terrorising our normally confident, well-adjusted pets and turning them into quivering, nervous wrecks in the process. With this in mind and with Guy Fawkes coming up on 5th November I thought I would share some useful information on how to keep your pets safe and hopefully calmer.
It’s a known fact that more dogs, cats and sometimes even horses and livestock are lost and/or injured when there are fireworks or fire crackers being used, as they panic and bolt, sometimes smashing through windows, breaking tethers and jumping over high fences / walls, running blindly in front of cars and injuring themselves in the process.
We always keep our pets safely indoors and stay home during Guy Fawkes and New Year, but even then our Pit Bull Bruno pants, barks, runs around in circles and shivers, whilst our Jack Russell Kira quivers and whines. Our clowder of 5 cats hide away and have increased hit-or-miss litter box ‘accidents’, so all in all it’s not a pleasant time for any of us.
So here are some well documented, tried and tested (by ourselves) methods to calm panicked pets:
- If you know or suspect that your pet is going to fret or panic about any fireworks or fire crackers, stay at home and keep your pets inside the house with you.
- If you don’t know how your pet is going to react or aren’t sure, keep him indoors. Don’t assume that because he’s a happy dog, that he won’t be frightened to death. Both of our dogs are registered therapy dogs, for which they tested under strange and unusual circumstances, but are still terrified when the fireworks starts.
- If it’s impossible to be home with them, keep them inside and in a room where they can’t jump out of a window (even a closed one), preferably where the windows are set too high – eg: kitchen
- Put comforting and familiar things around him – toys, bedding etc …
- Just in case, ensure he has clear identification (microchips / collars or both).
- Before the fireworks starts, take your pet for a nice long walk (on a leash), play with him in your garden or give him mental challenge such as training session with favourite commands with yummy treats. Much like a panicked brain cannot think, a tired body and tired brain is much less likely to go into full blown panic mode.
- Give him a hearty and nutritious meal around sunset, which will make him more sleepy and relaxed.
- Provide him with something to do – safe chew toy, hoof, catnip toy, catnip spray …
- Scared pets often calm themselves by squeezing into tight spots or under blankets and hiding their eyes. Offer them a safe hiding place and leave them be … even if it means having a little face in your armpit!
- If you can, dim the lights to create a more calming environment for your pet – unless of course he’s frightened of the dark.
- Avoid fussing and baby talk, as this reinforces his fear behaviour. It communicates to him that he has reason to be frightened. Instead be casual and matter of fact. When you hear a ‘boom’, acknowledge the noise with a casual and normal tone “My goodness that was loud, but see it doesn’t bother me. Nothing to worry about.”
- Camouflage the sound with ‘white noise’ – radio tuned to static can work quite well or soothing music. The idea is not to drown out the sound completely so do not play it loudly, but simply to camouflage it / detract from it.
- If your pets are known to react badly and cannot be calmed despite using these suggestions, speak to your veterinarian who may prescribe a mild tranquiliser for your pet (and perhaps one for you!).
For information on the laws surrounding the use of fireworks and fire crackers in a residential area, please contact your local SPCA or police station. If in Cape Town, you can contact Cape of Good Hope SPCA.