November 5 – aka Bonfire Night – can be a cosy winter experience. It’s all mulled wine, warm hats and sparkling firework displays.
Or, you know, it’s a bit annoying. You’re just trying to chill in the house and wind down in front of the TV – but all you can hear outside is incessant banging.
For our beloved dogs, cats and other pets, Bonfire Night isn’t cosy or even just mildly irritating. It can be the most terrifying night of the year – with the loud pops of fireworks seeming like a scary threat.
As animals tend to have a more acute sense of hearing than humans, just imagine how crazy the sounds must be to them.
According to the RSPCA, roughly 45% of dogs will show signs of fear as soon as they hear them go off. They also aren’t naturally inclined to hide in the same way our feline friends are.
Realistically, you can’t stop the fireworks going off for your canine pal. That’s totally, frustratingly, out of your control.
But what can you do to keep your pooch calm and ease their worries?
Take them for a walk earlier in the day
It’s best to avoid taking your dog for a walk after dark, as most fireworks get started around 6pm.
Taking them for a longer walk than usual may also help them feel more drowsy and relaxed once the loud bangs begin.
Muffle the sound of fireworks
The RSPCA recommends closing the windows, doors and curtains in your house to block out the sound of fireworks.
Putting on music or the TV is also a good way to cover up the noise. Owners could also opt to buy ear muffs for their pets.
Create a safe space
It’s important to make sure your pets have somewhere to hide during the fireworks, for example under furniture or in a cupboard.
The animal should be able to easily access the area at all times.
Once they’re in their safe space, it’s recommended that owners don’t try to coax them out, as this could add to their stress.
Train your dog to have a ‘doggy safe den’
The RSPCA suggests making a ‘doggy den’ in the quietest room of your house, where your pet can feel calm and totally in control of their surroundings.
It’s crucial the dog associates the den with positive experiences, which owners can do by putting in a comfy bed, lots of toys and a kong full of food.
You can then cover the den with a blanket once the fireworks begin.
Owners might want to stay with their dog while they’re in the den – but shouldn’t try and force them to interact if they don’t want to.
Don’t react to the fireworks yourself
Keeping calm around fireworks yourself will help your pets relax in return – but if they’re already scared and coming to you for some reassurance, then comfort them.
‘Comfort your dog if necessary, [but] remain calm though and don’t dramatise the event,’ says Mars Petcare animal behaviourist Dr Tammie King.
‘It is a common myth that comforting your dog reinforces their fear and makes them more fearful. This is not true! You would never not comfort/hug a scared child, and the same applies to your pet.’
Dr Rory Cowlam – aka Rory The Vet – says you should wait for them to come to you for a snuggle.
‘Don’t over-reinforce it by looking for your pets,’ he advises. ‘Wait for them to come to you before providing comfort.
‘This is important because telling them ‘it’s okay, it’s okay’ may suggest to them that there’s something to worry about.’
Don’t punish your pets for being scared
This one goes without saying, doesn’t it? Your dog hasn’t done anything wrong by being scared.
It’ll also only make things much worse in the long run.
Distract with a chewable treat
You know your dog best. What toy can they simply not resist? Perhaps a chewy bone, or a puzzle feeder, is practically guaranteed to keep them busy?
If you can, distracting your dog with positive tasks – like chewing on their favourite treat – is a wise move.
Make sure your dog is in a secure environment
It’s important to make sure your dog can’t bolt from the house if they hear loud noises.
Owners should also ensure their pets are microchipped, just in case they do escape.
Get your dog used to loud noises with sound therapy
Sound Therapy 4 Pets is a free treatment programme which owners can download from Dogs Trust online.
The programme contains a collection of specifically recorded noises which can help get puppies used to loud and unpredictable sounds.
Each treatment has been developed by two veterinary surgeons specialising in pet behavioural therapy.
You can also use the programmes to get your dog ready for crying babies, thunder and noisy traffic.
For more information, visit the RSPCA guidelines here.
Consider an anxiety vest for your dog
If you’ve tried everything else, Dr Tammie King suggests purchasing a soothing wrap for your dog.
‘Body wraps (available online and in stores) apply gentle pressure evenly to the body of cats or dogs – much like swaddling an infant – which can help keep animals calm.’
You can view options at Pets At Home.
And as for cats, guinea pigs, rabbits and other pets…
Keep them indoors! There’s absolutely no need for them to be out on Bonfire Night, adds Rory The Vet.
‘It’s common for cats to get scared and bolt, so it’s always best to keep them in on firework night,’ he advises.
‘Make sure they have a nice and comfortable area to sleep inside. Give them an early dinner to keep them inside and shut curtains to hide flashing lights from outside.
‘Small furry animals such as guinea pigs and rabbits (and pets kept outdoors) must be brought inside overnight. They also get scared by loud bangs and flashing lights and it is known for small furries to die from shock in these instances.’