Fireworks and Pets: 10 tips for calm pets

Bonfire night only marks the beginning of firework season and if you live somewhere that’s firework crazy, you've already had at least a week of it with another 3 months ahead of you and your pets 😩. Fireworks and pets sadly do not go well together. Thousands of pets find fireworks, and similarly thunderstorms, a terrifying ordeal but there are ways to mitigate their anxiety. Below we’ve covered our tried and tested methods for keeping your cats and dogs happy and safe over the next few months. And once fireworks season is over, you can continue to prepare them for the year ahead with some ongoing training, to make each year easier. 

Why are pets terrified of fireworks?

Loud and unpredictable, it’s no wonder that pets are terrified of fireworks. Coupled with their stronger sense of hearing, it’s understandable that your cat or dog feels threatened and vulnerable. But fret not, whilst your pets may never love fireworks, there are ways to help ease your furry friend and keep them safe and happy throughout the party season.
If your think your pet has an extreme reaction or suffers with a severe phobia to fireworks and noises in general, we recommend you speak to your vet. They’ll be able to rule out any medical issues and may refer you on to an animal behaviourist to support further.

How to tell if your pet is scared of fireworks?

Classic signs of stress and fear for cats and dogs can include a reluctance to eat, or refusal to go outside to use the loo and this may lead to some unfortunate accidents indoors. If you have an outdoor cat, try offering a litter tray for them as an alternative relief spot away from the scary outdoors - introduce one ahead of fireworks. Dogs may additionally tremble, feeling needy of your attention, barking excessively and panting - this is how Smudge reacts to thunderstorms and fireworks. Don’t despair as with the following tips you’ll be able to prevent accidents and help keep your pets calm.

1. Firework desensitisation training

    You may have come across a cat or dog who’s completely calm during fireworks and who's owner claims they've never had issues nor training. There’s some truth to the time of year your cat or dog was born having an impact. Kittens and puppies can be fearless and the earlier they come across loud sounds, the less likely they’ll be fearful of them. Prevention is always better than a cure, so as early as possible, work to desensitise and familiarise your kitten or puppy to loud noises like fireworks (or in the case of Boo electric toothbrushes). It’s important to do so while they’re happy, safe and distracted e.g. during playtime or when they’re feeding so that it’s background noise. As they mature to adulthood, you’ll likely have a fearless cat or dog.
    If you already have an adult cat or dog with a firework phobia, practice the same desensitisation training with them months ahead of fireworks season. There are CDs you can buy or lots of YouTube videos. This is the one we use with Smudge and Boo:

    It’s less than 10 minutes which is a good amount of time for regular daily sessions. We recommend starting with the lowest volume first and after a few sessions where you cat, or dog is calm and happy, increase the volume. Continue this until you get to the loudest level of volume. Be patient, it will not happy overnight. Depending on your pets’ current level of fear, it could take months but will be worth it in the long run.

    2. Feed your pet slightly earlier

    When stressed or anxious pets may lose their appetite or simply feel unable to eat due to the fear fireworks evoke. We recommend feeding your cat or dog slightly earlier before the fireworks start, to ensure that your pets don’t go hungry. 

    3. Provide your pet with their own safe place

    For cats and dogs, even outside of firework season, it’s important to have a safe place, somewhere quiet and cosy for them to retreat to and get their well-deserved “me time”. If you crate trained your dog, hopefully you’ve held on to their crate and that should suffice as their den. To make it the ultimate doggy den, line it with comfy blankets and cover the top to help absorb any outside noise. If you’re just introducing your dog to their den, the same principles apply as introducing a puppy to a crate, check out our blog on crate training. Start a few weeks before firework season and use treats and praise to lure them in and make it a happy place to be.
    Cats generally prefer to be up high or in the case of our Boo hidden under the quilt. You know your cat best, so choose according to your pet’s preference to find them a secure spot to retreat to.

    4. Tire your pet out during the day

    During firework season, we recommend taking longer more adventurous walks than you would normally to tire out your dog. This will make for a tired and calmer dog in the evenings. Similarly, for cats, have longer play sessions so that they feel sleepier in the evening. The more likely they are to sleep through, the better for you and your pet.

    5. Keep your pet indoors when fireworks are being let off (generally in the evenings)

    You might think your cat or dog is ok with fireworks, but chances are they are not. Pets display fear and anxiety in different ways and some pets choose to suffer in silence. Make their lives easier and keep them indoors with company of course. Your being there for them during fireworks will help keep your pets feeling happy and safe.  

    6. As snug as a bug in a rug

    Dubbed to “take the pet out of petrified”, ThunderShirts help alleviate anxiety for your pets during thunderstorms and fireworks. Whenever thunderstorms hit, we find a heavily panting, trembling Smudge standing on top of us in bed, so we swaddle her in a blanket and hold her tight. After a few minutes her trembling ceases and she drifts back to sleep. The principle is similar with the ThunderShirts where a constant, gentle pressure is applied to a cat or dog’s torso. If you’ve never put clothing on your pet before, don’t be alarmed when they freeze – this is a natural knee jerk reaction for many pets. Be patient, and they’ll soon relax and move around as normal – always helps to have their favourite toy or treat at hand as an incentive. ThunderShirts claim to work for over 80% of pets. Sadly, when we tried, Boo point blanked refused to cooperate and whilst Smudge complied, it didn’t have a noticeable effect on her anxiety. But other pet parents swear by them and as every pet is different, it’s worth checking if this works for your pet’s anxiety. You can buy a Thundershirt online at various pet retailers or here via their direct website where they also have a money-back guarantee and free shipping. Win win!

    7. Block out the noise

    There are tons of relaxing, soothing music available to buy to help keep your cat or dog calm. Lots of these are available on YouTube so you can find the right sound that works for your pet. Be warned – some of these tunes are incredibly catchy and you may find yourself humming along outside of fireworks season. Here’s one of Smudge’s favourites, “Squeaky Deaky” and I can’t lie we tend to bop along too. Yoga music tends to work wonders as well.

    8. The power of pheromones

    There are a number of products that are synthetic copies of the natural pheromones that provide comforting effects for your cat or dog. These are available as tablets, sprays or diffuser plug ins. A natural alternative is Pet Remedy which was recommended to us and worked wonders, firmly establishing itself as a cupboard essential! Consisting of a blend of essential oils Valerian, Vetiver, Sweet Basil and Safe that are all safe for ue on pets, your home and for the environment. We love that it’s 100% natural and made in the UK– two of our favourite shopping criteria! The guys at Pet Remedy have a party season survival kit to help keep your pets at ease during fireworks. For £25 you get a 60-day diffuser, 15ml calming spray and 3 calming wipes. As it’s a natural herbal mixture, it can be used directly onto your pet’s coat bedding and soft furnishings. And if your pet hates having anything directly sprayed onto them, we recommend using the wipe, or spraying onto your hands to wipe over your pet. We’ve tested the calming wipe which you gently wipe around the muzzle, under the chin and top of your pet’s chest and that seemed to do the trick for Smudge within 5-10 minutes. It’s hard to tell with boo as her displays of fear are less visible but we will be trying the diffuser spray this party season. You can learn more about Pet Remedy at Petremedy.co.uk and if you’re interested in trying them out, we currently have a competition on facebook, instagram or twitter where you can enter to win a free kit as well as a free bag of Scrumbles.

    Do's settled, time for a few don'ts on what not to do with your pets during fireworks season?

    - Let your pet lead the way and don’t do anything that they’re not comfortable with for example don’t pick up cats or try to restrain them
    - Do not coddle them. If your pet comes to you for support, cuddles are fine but don’t act frantic or fuss over them if they don’t. Pets are incredibly perceptive and if they sense you're behaving differently to the norm this can reinforce their anxiety. - - The best thing you can do for your pets is to keep calm, act normal and simply be around for them.
    - Be understanding of their fears and do not punish your pets.
    - Don’t leave your pets outside during fireworks. Running away from the sound is the natural instinct and this leaves your pet in a vulnerable position. More runaways are reported during fireworks than at other times of the year. Keep your pet happy and safe, where they belong at home. And if the worst does happen, by ensuring that your pet is microchipped and wearing their collar with their tag, this will help them get home safely.

        Our top 10 tips for caring for your pet during fireworks

        1. Firework desensitisation training
        2. Feed them slightly earlier
        3. Provide a secure safe place
        4. Tire them out during the day
        5. Keep your pets indoors
        6. Apply some pressure
        7. Play soothing music
        8. Pet remedy
        9. Keep calm and act normal
        10.Be there for them

          Fun for all?

          Outside of cats and dogs, the loud bangs of fireworks can cause unease and disruption for many other animals including humans. Fireworks are much louder than the 120 decibels pain threshold listed by the World Health Organisation and can lead to hearing loss. Did you know that by law a town in Italy, Collechio, only has quiet fireworks display? 
          Are you planning on hosting a party during fireworks season? Why not up the ante and throw a laser light show and dazzle your guests with something that’s both an eco-friendly alternative and one the animal kingdom will thank you for.

          And finally, some key fireworks fuelled events for your diary - take note!

          - Bonfire Night
          - 7th of November - Diwali
          - Christmas Eve
          - Christmas
          - Boxing Day
          - New Year’s Eve
            Planning ahead is crucial and thankfully there are key dates for you to stay prepared. Outside of these dates, there may be other parties involving fireworks so continue to keep your survival kit at the ready.
            Have we missed anything? Let us know in the comments and if you’ve found any useful tips for keeping your pets happy during fireworks, please do share.
            Thanks for reading,
            Aneisha, Jack, Smudge and Boo x