Fireworks season is an unnerving time for pets and their owners, so the Head of Canine Behaviour at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and star of ITV’s Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs, Ali Taylor, is offering her top tips to keep pets safe and calm.
During this time of year, many charities, like Battersea, see strays coming through their doors having run away from home after being spooked by firework displays. In November 2016, 87 stray dogs and 78 stray cats came into Battersea’s London centre. This year, the charity hopes pet owners will keep their pets safely inside and follow a few simple steps to reduce stress.
Says Ali, “Most dogs and cats find fireworks scary and upsetting as they’re not used to the sudden bangs and flashes, which can mean an uncomfortably long night for their owners as well. At Battersea, we do everything we can to help reduce the stress of fireworks season for the animals in our care. We give them a ‘safe place’ in their kennel or pen to hide, play soothing music to mask the noise, and black out the windows to minimise the flashes of the fireworks.”
Ali’s Top Tips
- It is vital to ensure that your dogs and cats are microchipped and that their microchip details are up to date. In the worst-case scenario, any animal that does run away from home on Bonfire Night can be reunited with its owner much easier if it’s been microchipped. As of April 2016, microchipping your dog became a legal requirement and Battersea strongly recommends cats also be chipped.
- Avoid letting your dogs and cats outdoors at times when fireworks are likely to go off. Take your dog for a nice long walk well before dark and keep your cats securely indoors throughout the evening. For most of the year it’s against the law to set fireworks off after 11pm, but this curfew is extended to midnight on Bonfire Night.
- Create a ‘safe place’ inside your home for your dog or cat to hide away in. For dogs, a table draped with a blanket is a great retreat or, if your dog is used to being in a crate, cover it and leave it open with blankets inside. Cats generally feel safer higher up, so provide a box lined with blankets somewhere above the room – perhaps on top of a secure wardrobe – with the opening slightly covered but easy to get in and out of.
- The sudden bang of fireworks can be masked by keeping a radio or TV on, which can reduce the impact noises may have on your pet. Classical music will help to calm dogs in general, and music with quite strong bass will be ideal for masking bangs when played at a volume that your dog or cat is happy with.
- It’s not only the sound of fireworks that can cause distress for your pets, it’s also the light and flashes across the sky. Always draw the curtains or cover the windows on Bonfire Night to minimise the lights from the fireworks.
- Cats (and even some dogs) can squeeze into surprisingly tight spots, so make your home as escape-proof as possible. Make sure all doors and windows are closed firmly and that anyone coming in or out of the house is aware they need to be quick opening and closing doors, and to keep an eye on any animals trying to make a run for it.
- Don’t confine your dog or cat to one room as they may hurt themselves trying to get out, particularly if they become stressed. They may also be most comfortable curled up in their usual spot with you rather than a designated ‘safe place’ so allow them access to all safe areas of the house.
- Animals are highly perceptive and will notice if you’re behaving unusually. Following your pet around or being overly affectionate may cause them to feel nervous or confused. If your dog or cat can see that fireworks have no effect on you, this may help decrease their anxiety. Reassure your pet by all means, but try to behave as normally as possible – the more you change your behaviour the more anxious your animal may become.
- Provide dogs with a long-lasting chew to help keep them distracted. You can buy a Pedigree Jumbone from the shop here at Battersea for your dog to enjoy this Bonfire Night, and you can also help the dogs in Battersea’s kennels by donating a chew to one of our dogs via our online shop to help keep them calm.
- Even if after following all my advice your dog or cat is still extremely stressed by fireworks, you may want to consult your vet. They may be able to provide medication to help reduce your pet’s anxiety, however, any medicinal treatment should always be accompanied by a behaviour management plan.
Ali has also starred in a video to share her advice, alongside her own dog, Squirt. Watch on our Facebook page.