Fireworks can be terrifying for animals; They’re loud, they come without warning, and animals don’t understand what causes them. Similarly, thunderstorms can also cause extreme fear and panic and can lead to animals running away from their homes or demonstrating destructive behaviours. A panicked response to the noise also creates a risk of injury. As we head into New Years Eve, and Australia Day just around the corner, be aware of the potential impact these events can have on your pet, and the steps you can take to minimise them.
There are things you can do to prepare for fireworks and thunderstorms to reduce the risks to your pets and to help them to be more relaxed. Something that should be done well in advance is to microchip pets. Microchipping is a way to ensure that your pet is permanently identifiable which can help in reuniting them with you if their fear causes them to take flight. We highly recommend microchipping regardless of whether your pet is going to be exposed to fireworks or not.
A wandering animal may become injured, lost, or stolen, or could find itself being taken to the pound. The risk of animals that are taken to the pound being unidentifiable is that after a period of time they could be euthanised. If your pet is not microchipped make sure that they are wearing a collar with an identification tag that has their name and at least one phone number (preferably a mobile).
Closer to the event, make sure that dogs have had a long walk to tire them and to help take the edge off their nervous energy. Your vet might prescribe medication to calm animals that become particularly stressed. If your vet has recommended that you medicate your pet, remember to do so before any anxiety sets in. Take your dog to the toilet before confining it and make sure that cats have access to litter.
Ideally your pets should stay at home with you if possible during fireworks and thunderstorms, as they are generally more relaxed when with their owners. The best thing you can do is provide your pet with a safe and comfortable environment, and do nothing that might add to its anxiety. Having you around will help provide your pet with comfort and support.
If you cannot not be at home, the next best option is to leave them inside the house if it’s safe to do so. Failing this make sure that wherever they are kept outdoors is safe and secure, and for outdoors pets consider keeping them in garages and laundries. Whether staying indoors or outside, be careful that there is nothing they could injure themselves on if they become panicked. Cords, cables, glass and breakables for example, should be removed from the room in which they’re being kept. Also make sure that fences and gates are secure and that your pet does not have any escape routes, including over the top of them.
If your pet is going to stay inside during fireworks or a thunderstorm event, switching on the television or radio may help to muffle the noise from outside. Also, closing blinds or curtains and leaving the lights on will help to reduce the impact of the flashing lights outside. Distract your pet and try to engage them in games, and reassure them that everything is ok. Bones and long-lasting treats that require extended chewing, can help calm dogs.
Do not punish your pet for demonstrating different behaviour when they’re stressed, and be careful of your own behaviour as well; Try not to fuss or appear agitated as this could reinforce their nervousness. Your pet will gain confidence from you if you if present as being calm and unflustered.
Providing them an area where they can safely hide might help your pet feel more at ease, for example under a bed or inside a wardrobe. Allow it to go where it wants to feel safe, provided of course that it is safe. Quiet rooms with fewer windows could be a good option as well as beds made with an unwashed shirt or something similar that contains your scent. This can help to comfort them as well as some bedding or blankets for burrowing. Ensure that pet doors and windows are closed, and secure rabbit hutches and bird cages etc.
Another option is to train your pet to use a crate or carrier, and then settle them in it for the duration of the fireworks. In the days leading up to the fireworks start leading your pet into the carrier - encouraging it with treats and other rewards if necessary - and allow it to become comfortable while in it.
Continue with normal activities as much as possible after the fireworks or thunderstorm has started, and maintain a normal tone and pitch with your voice. This will help to avoid giving your pet reason to think that there may be something unusual or worrying about the situation. If they become anxious, continue to maintain your behaviour and tone of voice.
If you have left your pets at home by themselves, return to them as quickly as possible. Take dogs outside to the toilet after the noises have stopped and keep them on a leash when you do, just in case they’re still nervous. Importantly, never punish them for accidents or damage. They cannot control their emotional and instinctual responses of fear, and punishment only frightens them further.
It can be possible to eliminate animal anxiety and phobia of loud noises but it takes time and planning. Through a combination of distraction, desensitisation and the provision of a comforting environment, reducing your animal’s anxiety should be possible. Desensitising is a good option if you have the time to invest well in advance of the event.
Noises such as thunder storms, can be found online at sites such as YouTube, and can be used in the desensitisation training. Play the noises at a soft volume and gradually work up to a louder volume over an extended period of time. Reward your pet with treats while the noises are being played and play games to create an association with positive things. If they show signs of fear or become distressed, reduce the volume and allow them time to calm down, and then slowly start the process again.
With some vigilance and planning, you and your pets can have a much more relaxed New Years Eve while the fireworks explode and the champagne corks pop. If you have any questions about caring for your pets or what to do if they’ve sustained an injury, call or drop by at any of the Vets4Pets locations. We wish you and your pets a happy and safe New Year and we look forward to seeing you again next year.