Fireworks and Your Pet
by USPCA Head of Veterinary Services Dr. Alan Bolton
Fireworks can be both stressful and dangerous for your pet. Animals kept outdoors unsupervised during firework season can be injured by fireworks or may become so frightened and distressed that they cause themselves injury. Pets left in a place where they are normally quite happy may injure themselves trying to escape from the loud noise and flashes.
The best place for your pet to be during firework season (or in thundery conditions) is indoors at home with you. If your dog reacts badly to fireworks and you have to leave them, arrange for a family member or friend to stay with them. Have some background noise such as the television playing to try to reduce the impact of the blasts and encourage your dog to rest quietly on their bed. Do not give them too much attention to try to reduce their fear as this can reinforce the anxious behaviour, stay calm and reassure them quietly. Cats are best kept indoors in a secure room with somewhere dark where they can hide away.
Signs of stress in dogs include panting, barking, whining, pacing around and shivering.
There are many products available which can help reduce the stress and anxiety caused by fireworks and other loud noises. Talk to your vet about your options, some of the commonest are:
‘Thundershirts’ are a type of coat which hugs the dog tightly and helps make many dogs feel secure and less anxious. They are available from pet stores or online.
Pheromones are naturally occurring calming hormones which may help settle your dog. They come as a spray, an impregnated collar or a plug-in diffuser. They have been clinically proven to reduce anxiety during stressful situations for dogs and cats and are available from your vet.
A range of supplements is available which may help reduce anxiety, again available from your vet. These should be started a few days before firework season.
As a last resort your vet may be able to prescribe anti-anxiety or sedative medication in severe cases. You will need to arrange a consultation with your vet to discuss this and to ensure it is safe for your pet.
Finally, it may be possible to desensitise your pet to the effects of the noise, although this takes time and commitment. Recording of fireworks are available and by playing these, initially at a low volume while reassuring your dog and rewarding them for calm behaviour, and then gradually increasing the volume, while ensuring that they do not become stressed.