The autumn is a celebratory season for many reasons. From Bonfire Night through to New Year, not a week goes by without a new cause for celebration. And what better way is there to celebrate something truly momentous than with a stunning firework display? However, for many of our furrier friends, this time of year is fraught with anxiety. Pets who dislike the unpredictable, loud bangs of fireworks are not uncommon, and this time of year can be a worrying one for pet owners.
And it makes sense, when you think about it. As intelligent as we like to think our pets are, they’re simply not as able to identify when a sound is a source of threat as we are. A noise that we can quickly rationalise away can prompt a fight or flight response in your pet who doesn’t understand what it is. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways that us humans can help keep pets calm during fireworks season. Read on for some free and easy ideas that could make a huge difference to your pet.
Time for W-A-L-K-I-E-S
At this time of year, any time after dark seems to be fair game for a fireworks display, impromptu or organised. If you have a dog, think about what times of day you walk them. You may need to adjust your routine to avoid walking them in the dark. Sticking to daylight walks should minimise the chances of them being spooked by fireworks while you’re out and about. This is particularly important if your walks take you to spaces where sounds can echo and seem even more loud and scary.
Even if you have pets who don’t require walking but frequent the outdoors for other reasons, think about how you’ll make sure they don’t get locked outside by accident. Make other provisions for their needs with a litter tray or similar. This way, you can keep them safe and indoors at times when fireworks are more likely to go off.
Hide and seek
Many pets have preferred hiding places that they’ll retreat to when they’re scared, or even for an undisturbed sleep. Growing up, my parents’ cat used to hide behind the bed in my childhood bedroom whenever he got scared. Any time there was a thunderstorm, fireworks, or even if a particularly loud aircraft flew over, behind that bed was where you’d find him, without fail. He liked this spot in particular because it was warm and enclosed.
To help keep pets calm during fireworks, make sure you don’t accidentally block their access to any of their preferred hiding places. As well as behind and under beds, pets favour other enclosed spaces as their hiding places. Inside cardboard boxes, the corners of wardrobes and closets and even in a (empty) bathtub or sink are all popular choices. Leave doors around your house open so that your pets can easily get to and from their favourite spots. Once they’ve retreated to a hiding place, make sure you know where they are so that you don’t shut them in. But, don’t disturb them if you can help it.
As animals are attracted to warm spots to hide in, pets can occasionally choose a hiding place that isn’t as safe for them as they think. They may choose to hide somewhere like the drum of your tumble dryer or even your dish washer! Always do a quick check to make sure nobody has taken up residence inside before closing any appliance doors and starting machines.
See no evil, hear no evil
It may seem obvious, but if your furry friend can’t see or hear the fireworks outside, then they won’t be afraid of them. Once its dark outside, close windows and curtains. This will not only block out attention-grabbing light, it’ll muffle the sound of fireworks so it’s less startling. You can also play music or leave the TV on for background noise at times when fireworks are more likely to go off. This helps to mask the noise of fireworks outside so your pet is less likely to notice it.
Building a den
Some animals take comfort from being in their owners’ company when they’re scared. But, they may also like to have a space of their own to retreat to and know you’re nearby. Thinking about their preference for enclosed spaces, create a den for them in rooms that you’re often in. This can help pets stay calm during fireworks by giving them a space to hide out in while also drawing comfort from being close to you.
Repurposing an animal crate that you use for transporting your pet is a great DIY option. Cover the crate in blankets to make it feel enclosed, leaving the door open as a space they can see out of. Then, place your pet’s favourite cushion or bed in the bottom, along with a few of their favourite toys and treats. As they’re already familiar with the smell of everything in your DIY den, they should have no qualms about using it if needed.
Caring for outdoor pets
It isn’t just cats and dogs who can be afraid of fireworks noise. Pets like rabbits, guinea pigs can become distressed when the air fills with sounds they perceive as dangerous. For small pets, make sure you provide plenty of bedding that they can burrow into as a hiding place. You can also cover their hutches and cages with blankets to help muffle loud noises and hide them to help keep pets calm during fireworks. If they live outdoors, you can also consider bringing them inside so that they’ll be shielded from loud, unfamiliar noises.
Be mindful of other wildlife
This time of year is popular for bonfires as well as fireworks displays. However, it’s also the time of year that many species of wildlife are looking for somewhere to hibernate. A large pile of wood stacked up in your garden can look like a luxury hotel to an unwitting hedgehog! It costs nothing to take care that nobody has moved into your bonfire before you light it. Work your way around your bonfire with a battery operated torch, lifting sections of wood one at a time to check for new residents.
Ideally, you should also dismantle and move your bonfire before lighting to make sure no wildlife or pets have hidden among the wood. But, if you don’t have space for this, when you build your bonfire, wrap chicken wire around the base, held in place by wooden stakes and angled to slope outwards. This makes it difficult for wildlife to climb so you’re less likely to find squatters when you come to light it.
If you want to encourage wildlife into your garden, you can buy all kinds of purpose-built homes for them that you can place. This will give them their much needed place to live during the winter, and keep them out of harms way. Take a look in your local garden centre and see what kind of animals, birds and bugs you could provide winter homes for!