Fear of fireworks in dogs and cats
New Year's Eve and other celebrations are difficult evenings for many animals and their owners, as fireworks and other loud noises can cause a lot of stress. Sound related fear is common. One scientific study reported that 49% of the UK dog population show signs of sound related fears. It is important to remember that a fear of fireworks and loud noises can affect other pets too. Here we give you some tips on how to best prevent your animal from becoming afraid of fireworks and firecrackers, and how to help them, if this fear has already arisen!
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
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Unfortunately, it is quite common for dogs and cats to be afraid of fireworks, which can cause problems, especially at New Year. Some animals react to the bang, others to the whistling sound or the flashing lights. Many animals react to both light and sound. Dogs and cats that are afraid of fireworks may also be afraid of other things, such as thunder or other loud noises. It may be obvious to many people but pets must never be taken to a firework display.
Why is my dog or cat afraid of fireworks?
Sometimes a fear of fireworks stems from a triggering event. For example, fireworks very close to the pets house, or when the animal was outside. Occasionally, a pet may have had a firecracker thrown at or near them. However, sometimes there is no known cause. Some animals become used to fireworks over time, whilst others become more afraid of each time they hear them.
What can you do to help your pet on New Year's Eve?
There are several emergency measures that you can take, however, training and planning in advance of anticipated events are the best strategy to help you and your pet. Advance training and prevention is discussed below. The aim of management is to help your dog to develop coping strategies, including environmental management and human interaction: a multi-modal approach.
It is wise to stay indoors, keep doors closed, play music/radio/TV and draw the curtains to reduce noise and light. Try to stay calm yourself, as your pet will pick up on even very slight changes in your body language. Dog’s rely on environmental cues, and the behaviour and reactions of those around them. They are looking to you to reassure them. Acknowledge their behaviour. Only comfort your dog if this is what is normal for you, but try not to be too sympathetic; hugging your dog might make them more fearful. Please bear in mind that if music/radio is not commonly played in the house, this could contribute to noise sensitivity.
Offer your pet a tasty treat to chew, or use a food toy to distract them from the fireworks, such as a KONG. Make sure that your dog is exercised properly during the day. Try to make sure that your cat has come in before before the fireworks start on New Year's Eve.
Allow your worried dog pace around, whine and hide in a corner, if that is what they want to do. Once they have found a safe space try not to disturb them. Do not get angry with your dog if they are scared by the fireworks.
Building a den or safe haven can provide them with a safe place to retreat to that will help block out the sounds of fireworks. The aim is to make this to be a place they like to go and relax. The location of this den is very important; it must be a space that is available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Dogs can be taught to hide there from an early age. Lack of a safe den can be a major source of stress. Putting an item of clothing or their toy(s) in there may help to keep your dog calm. Once they are happily using it, you could try putting a duvet over the top to add more sound proofing. Do not try and coax them out of their den; allow them to come out in their own time and remember to provide praise and attention once they do.
For dogs and cats who are not afraid of loud noises, try to avoid the animal being frightened when there are a lot of fireworks outside. If you have the opportunity to do so, plan to go out of town, or somewhere where there are less fireworks. Locations near airports, for example, will be much quieter as there are no fireworks nearby. Hotels or local places to stay may offer overnight stays for you and your dog or cat.
Signs of noise anxiety
- Hiding or trying to dig/escape
- Panting excessively
- Not settling in their bed
- Holding their tail between their legs
- Separation-related behavioural problems: vocalising, destructive behaviour
Diagnosis of noise anxiety
It is usually assumed that animals that show any of the signs listed above, and that do not calm down when fireworks or loud noises are over, are afraid of them.
Treatment of noise anxiety - not a quick fix
The very best approach is to try to prevent a fear of fireworks or other loud noises arising so that your dog or cat is never afraid in the first place. Start well in advance of the New Year so that you have plenty of time to train your pet and they have plenty of time to learn. Please note that it is not a good idea to start training a few weeks before the New Year; it may risk doing more harm than good.
Kittens have their key socialisation period between about the age of 2-7 weeks of age. For puppies, this is between about 3-12 weeks of age. This may vary slightly between different individuals and breeds. During the socialisation period kittens and puppies are learning what to expect normally from the world. This means that a puppy or kitten who has not encountered loud noises in safe conditions during this period seems to be at greater risk of suffering from a fear of loud noises. One of the first things that can be done is for the breeder to make sure that the kitten or puppy starts to be exposed to loud noises, under controlled safe conditions, before moving to their new owner.
The best thing is to try to desensitise your pet to sounds that they may find alarming. This is done by gradually exposing them to a variety of noises and an increasing volume of noises, including the sound of fireworks. There are special training aids available, such as audio recordings of sounds, so that you can get started with training, or treating, your pet straight away.
Get help from a dog trainer, such as The Dog Coach, or a Certificated Animal Behaviourist to set up a training program specific to your pet. Support is now available online, as well as in-person When desensitising your pet to noises, any sound should be perceived as a normal background sound, and not as something scary. Be very careful to observe your pet's body language. At the slightest sign of discomfort or stress when playing the sound, it needs to be reduced so that the cat or dog feels safe again. This is very important! This training must be done with appropriate guidance to avoid your pet feeling insecure, and developing or worsening the fear!
Also take a look at these useful illustrations by Lili Chin about the cat’s and dog's body language:
Dietary supplements, pheromones and ThunderShirts
If your animal is very stressed, these preparations are rarely sufficient to resolve the problem, however they are still usually recommended as part of the treatment.
- Dietary aids: calming supplements can help to reduce anxiety levels. Examples include Nutracalm, Zylkene, Kalmaid and Adaptil Express tablets. Although most of them work within 24 hours (or less), they often work better if a course is started prior to firework season
- Pheromones: a range of products is available to help reduce anxiety, including plug-in diffusers and sprays. Adaptil Pheromone Collars contain Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP), which plays an important role in olfactory communication in both adult dogs and puppies. Pet Remedy contains a blend of calming essential oils
- ThunderShirts: the design of these vests applies a gentle, constant pressure that has a significant calming effect on most pets, and may help soothe noise fears. Visit their website for more information
If a pet is very scared or fireworks or other loud noises, you may need to use prescription medication in the short term, together with ongoing training techniques, to help them to have the best chance to resolve their fear. There are a variety of medication options, which typically provide anxiolytic or sedative effects.
If you think that your dog or cat may need the help of prescription medication for fireworks, they will need to be physically examined by your vet first. This is because many of the sedatives will affect the circulation, therefore it is important to know that their heart and lungs are healthy. If your vet has prescribed prescription medication then we recommend that you do not leave your dog or cat alone.
When to see your physical vet
- If your pet’s behaviour doesn’t improve, consult a vet or a certified pet behaviourist for help and support with training
- To discuss prescription medication for your pet
Book a video appointment to have a chat with one of our vets.