How to keep your pet calm during bonfire night

Sophie Taylor

Animals can be scared of fireworks due to their inexplicable nature. As resident pet expert Sophie Taylor tells us, communication is key in tackling firework anxiety in pets.

Scare night for dogs

scared of halloween dog

I remember one thundery night as a child, our Tibetan Terrier Molly bolting upstairs and diving into my parent’s bed for cover. Their initial surprised laughter made her a little self-conscious and she attempted to sit bravely at the foot of the bed. Of course we all rallied to keep her calm, but she couldn’t help shaking from shoulder to paw for the remainder of the storm.

It’s not often that we’re so scared of something that our whole body shakes. When we do, whether irrational or not, it’s because we are uncontrollably anxious and it feels like the end of the world.

If I didn’t know what fireworks were, I’d probably imagine it was the four horsemen of the apocalypse signalling the rapture, to be fair it’s also four times louder for dogs and worryingly unexplainable. 

 

Help to explain

There are ways you can help ‘explain’ this tradition of loud bangs to your pet. 

There are products we can buy to help calm our pets, such as the scent plug-ins, which mimic the calming pheromones of a pet’s mother, or even homeopathic remedies to drop into our pet’s food every evening such as Bach’s Rescue Remedies; both to be used for a few days before and during the event. However, I believe in communication first. 

 

Communication is the key

Animals have a complex language based on behavioural signals, sounds and smells. Some natural and simple ways to explain the harmlessness of the situation could involve leading by example. If we appear calm and unfazed, this sends a powerful message to our pets that no one is at risk. 

Create a distraction

  • Playing games and music with your pet can distract them from the commotion, especially if food and treats are involved. One of my favourites is the rubber Kong stuffed with cheese that can entertain you both for hours.
     
  • Another method, for a dog at least, is to take them for a longer than usual walk on the day of the event, preferably somewhere you don’t normally go or will hold many different smells. 
     
  • An evening meal that is high in carbohydrate will help your pet feel full, more sleepy and therefore less anxious of the noises and lights outside. 

 

Behavioural cues

It has been suggested that, just as animals take behavioural cues from us, your pet may benefit from hanging out with another who doesn’t suffer from firework anxiety. However, be cautious as this can backfire and work the other way.

 

Relieve anxiety

dog cuddle

One product I believe to be worth trying is the Thundershirt. As barmy as it sounds, this ‘hugging’ vest is based on hundreds of years of research into the benefits of constant pressure to relieve anxiety. It is based on a method used with people who have autism, to help reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Whenever Molly was upset about the thunder, the hoover, uninvited guest, I would take to a dog massage learned from an old pet psychology book. As successful as it is in most situations, cuddling or trying too hard to physically calm your pet can increase the feeling of danger as you change your behaviour.

All of these approaches can also be taken during the upcoming festive season, when your household or neighbours may be holding more parties or events than usual.
 

 

Get connected

You can find helpful information from the PDSA and other pet charities, such as this article on the PDSA website.

 

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