How can I keep my pet calm on bonfire night? Vets and experts reveal their top tips

Bonfire Night and its fireworks displays can be a distressing and anxious time for the UK’s cats and dogs - here’s how to keep them calm (image: Shutterstock)Bonfire Night and its fireworks displays can be a distressing and anxious time for the UK’s cats and dogs - here’s how to keep them calm (image: Shutterstock)
Bonfire Night and its fireworks displays can be a distressing and anxious time for the UK’s cats and dogs - here’s how to keep them calm (image: Shutterstock)

With its firework displays and massive bonfires, Guy Fawkes Night is a time of fun and festivity for many people.

But for our four-legged friends, the 5 November can be an anxious and terrifying time.

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Dogs, cats and other popular pets, like rabbits, are all sensitive to loud bangs and bright flashes.

So what can you do to give them the least stressful Bonfire Night possible?

We asked vets and leading charities for their advice.

How to keep dogs calm on Bonfire Night

Most dogs are distressed by the sudden loud bangs and flashes of light fireworks bring.

“Dogs have approximately four times more sensitive hearing than humans, so the loud cracks and bangs of fireworks can often be a terrifying and confusing experience for them,” said head of canine behaviour at charity the Dogs Trust, Jenna Kiddie.

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“Fireworks tend to be sudden, unpredictable and bright. This combination can be distressing and have a lasting impact on dogs.”

Kiddie gave us eight top tips for dog owners on how to keep their pups as calm as possible on Bonfire Night:

  1. Walk your dog during daylight hours – it’s a good idea to make sure your dog is exercised and has had a toilet break well before any fireworks displays are likely to get underway
  2. Feed your dog before the fireworks begin - they may not want to eat during the fireworks
  3. Make sure your house and garden are secure - some dogs may try to run away if they’re scared
  4. Provide a safe hiding place – ensure your pooch has a safe bolthole in their favourite room. For example, put a comfy bed under a table with blankets to make it cosy and help with soundproofing
  5. Mask bangs and flashes - close the curtains, turn the lights on and turn up the volume on your TV or radio to mask the firework noises and flashes. On the radio, Classic FM will be broadcasting special pet-friendly shows between 6pm and 10pm on 5 and 6 November that will aim to soothe dogs and other pets
  6. Keep your dog busy - playing games or doing some training can help take their mind off the noise
  7. Comfort and reassure your dog - try to remain calm and avoid telling your dog off, as this might make them more anxious
  8. Let them be - if your dog just wants to hide somewhere, they shouldn’t be forced to come out. Allow them to stay where they feel safe

Pet emergency care provider Vets Now also recommends talking to your vet if your dog suffers from fireworks anxiety.

Vets can direct you to products, for example, calming collars or medication.

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Meanwhile, on Facebook, a comforting dog hack has emerged - although it is not clear whether it is safe or advisable for all pooches so must be approached with caution

The ‘sock trick’ involves cutting the end off a long pair of socks off and placing it over your dog’s ears to muffle the noise of fireworks.

But you should check with a vet before doing this to your dog.

The Dog’s Trust also has sound-based treatment programmes that aim to normalise sounds that are scary to pups over a period of time.

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While it’s too late to start one of these programmes for Bonfire Night 2021, it might be worth trying one out on your pet ahead of the New Year’s Eve fireworks.

What can I do to help my cat on Bonfire Night?

According to Vets Now, cats associate loud noises with danger and may well panic when the flashes and bangs get going.

The vet service provider said its vets see “hundreds” of felines that have been involved in road traffic accidents due to being spooked by fireworks.

As with dogs, sound therapy may be a solution for your cat.

Vets Now also recommends talking to your vet for advice on what to do.

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Here are some top tips from the company on how best to look after your cat during the fireworks:

  • Make sure your cat can’t harm itself - even the most placid of cats can bolt for cover and hurt themselves in the process. It’s advised to make sure they have access to more than one room to avoid hurting themselves
  • Keep them indoors - block off cat flaps so they can’t escape and avoid leaving them home alone
  • Close your curtains - keep out flashes by trying to keep your cat somewhere with no windows, or by shutting the curtains
  • Allow access to their favourite bolthole - try to avoid constantly checking on them if they have chosen to hide somewhere
  • Drown out the noise - provide background noise from a TV or radio
  • Act normal - it is more beneficial to act calmly. If you give off any anxiety, your cat may think they should be worried too
  • Don’t tell them off - it’s advised to not shout at your cat if it becomes destructive as a result of distress — this will only upset your pet more
  • Provide an indoor litter tray in a convenient location - if cats are very anxious, they may avoid visiting the toilet if they feel threatened or scared. So try to help them keep up their normal routine by putting their litter tray in an accessible place

Vets Now says it can be hard to know if your cat is distressed because they don’t reveal their emotional state as readily as dogs.

Some cats will show obvious signs of stress and anxiety though.

Look out for dilated pupils and withdrawn behaviour. You should listen out for hissing or low grumbling too.

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When cats are scared they’re also likely to arch their back and crouch, pin their ears back, and make slow low movements.

What about my other pets?

It’s not only dogs and cats that can be distressed by fireworks.

Rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and birds can also be terrified by displays.

Some have even been known to die of fright when fireworks are set off near their home.

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Here are some more tips from Vets Now on how to help the smaller creatures in your life.

  • Bring their hutch inside - the sound-proofing provided by the four walls of your home will help your pet cope. If bringing their cage inside isn’t possible, partly cover it with blankets so that they have some soundproofing. But you must ensure your pet has enough ventilation
  • Soundproof your house by closing windows and drawing curtains
  • Again, you can provide normal background noises, like the TV or radio
  • Provide plenty of bedding - this will help your pet feel secure by giving them something to hide in and will also help keep out the noise
  • Make sure they’re not alone — rabbits in particular are social animals, so try to make sure they’re with someone they’re familiar with
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