Guy Fawks night is one of the UK traditions that has stood the test of time, as people across Great Britain celebrate the defeat of treasonous plot 400 years ago. Gathering around the bonfire, eating treacle toffee, toffee apples and parkin, enjoying sparklers and letting off fireworks are all part of family get-togethers and organised events.
But, while many of us humans enjoy the shimmering displays and loud bangs of Bonfire Night, our pets are less keen. And, unfortunately, fireworks are not only the source of frightening noises for pets on 5th November, but for weeks before and after Bonfire night too.
Why is Bonfire Night so hazardous for pets?
A lot of the danger for pets in the autumn is due to the unpredictability of the hazards that can affect your cats and dogs. Most people are aware that their pets will be frightened and stressed by the noise of fireworks, so they may choose to stay at home with them on 5th November. But fireworks on that evening are not the only risk. People often begin setting off fireworks days or even weeks before bonfire night, for a number of reasons: for early Guy Fawks celebrations, for Diwali (the Hindu festival of lights) and because of anti-social and nuisance behaviours.
It is often not practical to ensure there is constantly someone at home with your pets at this time of year, particularly as fireworks may even be set off during the afternoon, as well as in the evening. And even if you are at home, the level of noise from ‘bangers’ designed to be as loud as possible, is torture for pets, despite the protection of double glazing and a cosy blanket.
Outside of the house there are dangers too. For cats, this can include taking naps under piles of wood gathered for bonfires, creating the risk that they could get trapped…or worse.
And for dogs, there is always the possibility that fireworks will be let off during a walk, which is not only terrifying but could lead to a further risk that they will be spooked, slip their lead and run off.
For both cats and dogs, firework debris and discarded food from Bonfire Night parties and events are also a potential hazard, which could cause choking or poisoning.
How to protect your pets from Fireworks and autumn hazards
While it’s not practical or desirable to keep your pets indoors throughout the autumn, it is advisable to keep them inside as much as possible during the hours of darkness, when it is most likely that fireworks will be let off. It is also worth double checking that your pets’ microchips are up to date in case they do bolt or hide when they are frightened. If your dog is nervous and prone to bolting, consider using two leads when you’re out with them at this time of year, one attached to a harness and the other to a collar, just as an added safety measure.
Inside the house, think about which rooms are most protected from outside noise – this may not be the room where you or your pet usually spend your evenings, but it may be wise to change that routine while there is a risk of loud bangs outside. Alongside their favourite humans, a favourite blanket and toy can be comforting and some pets my want to burrow under blankets or hide under furniture as their instinct to protect themselves kicks in. This is all completely understandable and they will be comforted by your presence in the room, even if they choose to hide under a table or chair.
There are products that you can buy to help your pet with the stress caused by the loud noise of fireworks or thunderstorms, including a variety of chews, sprays and diffusers. For dogs, Thundershirts can also be effective, applying a constant, gentle pressure that soothes their anxiety.
Our top tips for managing your pets’ stress and anxiety around fireworks
Every dog and cat is different and most pet owners learn to recognise when their pet is stressed and anxious, adopting strategies to help them. However, here are our top tips:
- Create a place of calm where your pet can feel secure, and take turns to sit with your dog or cat so that they feel reassured that you are there to protect them.
- Keep to regular mealtimes and your pet’s preferred food but don’t be too concerned if they don’t eat as much as usual. Stress can be a trigger for avoiding food and your pet will probably begin eating as normal as soon as they are feeling less anxious: allow them to follow their own instincts.
- Don’t assume that a pet who wasn’t upset by fireworks last year will be similarly resilient this year. Cats’ and dogs’ personalities evolve as they age and an adult dog may be much more concerned by the noise than they were as a puppy. Your pet’s experiences can also affect their responses – a dog that has been spooked by a firework close by while out on a walk may react differently to all firework noise as a result.
- Try to keep other distractions to a minimum. It can be easy to assume that creating alternative noise and stimulus in the house will distract your pet but it is more likely to distress them because they are already coping with so much anxiety.
- If your dog is stressed and anxious, they may have a raised heartbeat and begin panting. This is a natural response but if they appear to be distressed for a long period after the fireworks have finished, consult your vet.