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As autumn is drawing in, most pet owners are only too aware that Guy Fawkes Night (November the 5th) is almost upon us, and of course, Guy Fawkes Night means fireworks. Even if you live out in the middle of the countryside, you are unlikely to be able to escape the sounds of banging and whizzing that always accompany fireworks, often for several days either side of the date itself- and of course, using fireworks in celebration is also becoming more popular at other times of the year now as well, such as Christmas and new year. The vast majority of domestic pets such as dogs and cats, small furries and even horses hate the banging and crashing sounds of fireworks night, which often goes on over several hours. If fireworks are a nightmare for your pet, read on to find out how to keep your pets safe while fireworks are going off, and how to minimise the associated stress which the loud noises can cause.
Don't forget that around Halloween, Guy Fawkes Night and other times of the year such as Christmas and new year, people may be letting off fireworks in your area over the course of several days and several times each evening. Make your plans to account for this, rather than concentrating on Guy Fawkes Night alone, or you may find yourself caught out.
Bring any hutches for outside pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs into the home, shed or garage in good time each evening. Get cats closed in during the evenings in good time- and don't forget to lock the cat flap and provide a litter tray as your cat won't be able to go out as normal. If you keep horses, make sure that you bank their bedding up well on the walls in case they spook and hurt themselves. Closing the top door of the stable and being on hand can also help, although take care if in a stable or enclosed space with a nervous horse that you don't become injured. If your horse is particularly likely to spook, consider putting some protective boots or bandages on them to protect their legs such as those used for travelling. If you have a dog, make sure that you walk them early enough in the evening that you will avoid the earliest fireworks- and that they are fed and watered too, as stress and fright might make them unwilling to eat later.
Dogs and cats, when afraid, will seek out small, safe hiding places and try to make themselves appear as little as possible in the hope that the perceived danger will pass them by. Make sure that your pet has a place that they can hide in- under furniture, in a cupboard or anywhere they feel safe. Don't try and evict them from their chosen hiding place or bother them unduly when using it.
As dusk falls, fireworks begin. Often fireworks displays are arranged for early in the evening, so that smaller children can enjoy them. As it starts to get dark, close your curtains, and put on some music or the TV moderately loudly to mask the banging sounds as much as possible. It's important to do this before the bangs start, otherwise the additional stimulus may be more of a cause for alarm in your pet.
When the fireworks start in earnest, your pet may well begin showing signs of distress, such as crying, barking, hiding or running about frantically looking for a safe place to sit things out. If your pet is running about, it's important to try and calm them and encourage them to settle in one place to avoid injury. Talk to them in a calming manner and behave as if everything is normal. One of the main potential pitfalls that pet owners fall into when dealing with fear of noise on fireworks night is by fussing over them too much and concentrating on getting their pet to behave normally. While it is always hard to see your pet distressed or scared, this behaviour can actually encourage their fear. By fussing over your animal while fireworks are going off, you are teaching them that there is a legitimate source of fear at hand, and your pet will be less likely to settle. Carry on as normal, speak in your normal voice and lead your pet by example in understanding that nothing is going wrong. If your pet shows signs of willing to come out and play, this is great and you should encourage this, but don't force it or keep trying to interact with them if they would rather hide. If your pet is very stressed, they may even lose control of their bladder or bowels or act out in other ways that are normally cause for chastisement. It's important to remember that your pet is scared, not naughty, and never to punish them or talk harshly to them for involuntary actions performed in fear.
Synthetic feel-good animal pheromones such as DAP for dogs and Feliway for cats can go a long way to soothing your pet and encouraging them to feel safe within their environment. Collars, sprays and plug-ins are all available- talk to your vet for advice. Similarly, calming food additives may be useful in generally minimising stress in your pet and enabling them to keep a calm outlook at times of discomfort.
If you have another pet who is not afraid of fireworks, having them in the same room as your scared pet can go a long way to showing a frightened animal that there is nothing to fear. This is only the case though if the animals are already familiar with each other- introducing a stranger while a lot of outside stimulus is occurring will likely make things worse.
No matter how conscientious you are about keeping your pet inside during fireworks, a small number of pets each year manage to find an escape route and decide to take their chances by making a run for it. Scared animals choosing 'flight' can often make their way a long distance from home, and be unable to find their way back after the noise has stopped. Make sure that your pet is microchipped and if they wear a collar that it clearly displays your contact details in order to help other animal lovers get your pets back to you safely in the unlikely event that they escape during all of the noise.
Most pets will react to fireworks and other loud noises to some degree, and as unexpected bags can be alarming for people as well as pets, it's no surprise that fireworks night will affect most animals to some degree. However if your pet reacts particularly badly or becomes highly distressed, you might want to consider training and exposure therapy to get your pet more used to loud noises and minimise their fear and alarm. Talk to your vet about the options and training programmes available to get your pet more used to loud noises and sudden sounds- it can be invaluable in helping your pet to manage around Guy Fawkes Night, as well as at other times of the year.
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