Letty the miniature Dachshund is only just one, and we are quite concerned as to how she will react on Bonfire Night (the 5th of November for my American friends, but more often celebrated on the following Friday or Saturday night). She grew up in the country and, whilst she may well have heard big bangs before, we live quite centrally in London, and there is always a lot of firework noise in the week around the 5th.
I spoke to my friends at Dogs Trust, and it turns out that they, along with Cats Protection, have some excellent advice on how to have a happy dog and no scaredy cats this fireworks season.
Lynn Barber, Head of Canine Behaviour and Training at Dogs Trust, explains how you can help relax your four legged friends:
“…November is potentially a worrying month for pet owners as so many pets are sensitive to sounds. Dogs particularly hear much higher frequencies than we do and the whizz and pop of fireworks can be alarming for them…if your pet chooses to hide then that is where he or she feels safest and it’s important that they’re allowed to stay in their hide-out as long as needed.
Often owners will try and drag their dogs out for enforced cuddles and affection; this should be avoided as it will only confuse your pet but it is important you are on hand to try and make your four-legged friend as comfortable as possible.”
Nicky Trevorrow, Cats Protection’s Behaviour Manager points out: “When faced with a stressful situation such as fireworks a cat’s natural behaviour is to run away, seek an elevated perch and/or hide so it is important for owners to provide hiding places for their cat during fireworks season.”
ADVICE FOR PET OWNERS:
Before the fireworks begin:
If your pet has struggled with fireworks before make sure to visit the vet well in advance of Bonfire Night. This will ensure that you have time to trial any prescribed medication. You can also ask about DAP – Dog Appeasing Pheromone, a scent that can comfort your dog and help him or her cope with their fears or a pheromone plug-in diffuser such as Feliway® which can have a beneficial effect in calming cats.
Walk your dog before fireworks – make sure your dog is well exercised and is relieved before the fireworks begin. Keep your cat inside before it gets dark.
Try to settle your pet before the fireworks start – if your pet is in familiar safe surroundings it will help him cope with the noise
Provide a safe hiding place – at noisy times around Bonfire Night, make sure your pet has somewhere safe to hide in his or her favourite room, perhaps under a table if you have a dog, or on an elevated surface if you have a cat. Close the curtains and turn up the volume on your TV or radio to drown out the firework noises.
If your pet responds well to certain music, make a compilation and play it at a reasonable level to drown out the sound of the fireworks. Alternatively, put your radio on.
During the fireworks:
Don’t punish a cat or dog for cowering or reacting to the fireworks as this will intensify his or her fear. Owners should aim to remain relaxed and therefore provide a good role model to the animal when it is afraid.
Don’t leave your pet alone in the house during the fireworks period – he or she may panic and this could result in an injury.
Keep your pet indoors
Move your pet’s routine so that outdoor time is before the fireworks begin and provide a litter tray for cats
Remaining calm and quiet yourself may help to reassure your pet
After the fireworks:
If your pet does react badly to fireworks seek a referral from your vet to a qualified behaviourist such as a member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors regarding desensitisation programmes to help him or her cope more easily next time. As these programmes generally take several weeks or more to complete, they are not something that can be started in the final run-up to firework season and must be carefully planned.
It is also important that in the long term your pet becomes less scared of loud noises. It is most effective to prevent noise phobia developing by ensuring that puppies and kittens are desensitised to usual noise. This can be done by playing socialisation CDs to puppies and kittens while they feel safe and secure to ensure that they become acclimatised to loud noise.
For further advice on keeping cats and dogs safe during fireworks displays, please visit www.dogstrust.org.uk or or www.cats.org.uk
I took Billy the Whippet, Posetta Baddog and Lettice for a walk in the Regent’s Park last week wearing the most amazingly chic M&S Best of British Pure Wool Herringbone Coat in Mallalieus tweed (gift), a COS print shirt dress, Boden navy ribbed tights, ASH cowboy boots (I bought mine a few seasons ago, but these are probably the nearest this season), and my Whistles sunglasses.
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Photograph: Remy Millar