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Dogs, cats and fireworks – what type is your pet?

Take our quiz to work out your pet’s profile and reveal how they really feel about fireworks. We have some tailor-made top tips and coping strategies to help make fireworks night a time to remember for all the right reasons.

  1. What phrase most closely describes how your pet reacts to fireworks year on year?
    a. Seems to get more accustomed to the noise and react less every year
    b. Seems to experience about the same reaction every year
    c. Seems to get more fearful and afraid each year
  2. What best describes how your pet reacts to firework noise?
    a. Jumps or looks alert when hears the noises
    b. Hides away, paces, seeks comfort, or trembles at the noise
    c. Shakes, frantically seeks somewhere to hide, is destructive, vomits, has toileting accidents, howls, barks, or seems generally very distressed
  3. From when the fireworks start on any one night, until they end that night, how does your pet react?
    a. Reacts to first noises then settles down
    b. Reacts and this stays at about the same level throughout
    c. Reacts and this reaction gets more severe the longer the noise goes on
  4. What best describes the way your pet first experienced fireworks
    a. Heard or saw fireworks at an early age (less than 4 - 6 months) in a safe and relaxed environment
    b. Heard or saw fireworks when older than 6 months of age in a safe and relaxed environment
    c. First experienced fireworks in a negative way (eg close to noise, in a crowd, or experienced a loud bang in close proximity) or had a bad experience in later life
  5. What best describes how you feel about fireworks season and your pet?
    a. Mildly or not at all worried – my pet seems OK but I might get a little concerned if loud noises go on for some time as that could eventually upset my pet
    b. Upset – my pet seems anxious or fearful of firework noise
    c. Distressed – my pet is so fearful of firework noise that I dread this time of year

While our quiz has been developed with vets, remember that this is just a guide and the best person to talk to about your pet’s reaction to fireworks is your own veterinary surgeon who will be able to make a more individual assessment and recommendation.

Mostly a’s: Cool, calm and collected

Your pet’s reactions to fireworks are quite normal. While a bad experience or changes through life can alter how a pet reacts to fireworks, by taking sensible precautions you can hopefully keep things calm. Some sensible precautions include:

  • Walk your dog in daylight so you don’t have to go out after dark when fireworks are going off. Keep cats indoors in the evening.
  • Consider giving your pet a meal in the late afternoon or early evening during fireworks season to help them settle. Stress can impair digestion, so your vet may recommend an extra highly digestible diet over the fireworks season, otherwise stick to the usual food and avoid high fat titbits or treats. In some areas fireworks go on for some time so if you are worried about giving too many extra calories, split the normal daily meal in two.
  • Keep windows closed and curtains drawn during fireworks and play a radio or put on the TV at normal volume as background noise to mask some of the sounds.
  • Act normally yourself so that your pet doesn’t pick up on any anxiety you might feel.
  • An attention occupying chew or toy is a distraction and can create some positive associations with firework noise.

The good news is that your pet currently doesn’t think fireworks are anything to worry about. Most fears and phobias grow over time, so it’s well worth taking a few precautions now to keep your pet calm.

Noise phobias have been more commonly reported in pets with separation anxiety and the two conditions can also sometimes be confused. If you have any reason to believe that your dog or cat reacts badly to fireworks when you are not at home, do seek advice from your vet or a pet behaviourist.

Mostly b’s: Anxious or fearful

Your pet’s profile indicates some fear of firework noise. In some cases this might be low level anxiety that persists throughout firework season, or in others there may be signs of outright fear. In some pets those signs will worsen over time, so it is always worth taking action early. All of the baseline precautions recommended to keep pets calm (mostly a’s) are worth putting in place alongside some additional precautions.

Additional precautions for anxious or fearful pets:

  • Use a pheromone diffuser or spray appropriate to cats or dogs to help keep anxiety at bay
  • Create a den that your pet can retreat to in a quiet part of the house. Use a pet travel crate, cat igloo, puppy pen, or indoor tent and make it feel protected by draping over blankets to create a place where your pet can feel safe. Set this up in advance and give your pet positive attention, toys and food treats when the den is used.
    Cats may prefer a hiding place higher up (for instance in an airing cupboard with the door left open). Keep in mind that pacing and panting might also mean that your pet gets quite hot and it can be useful to create a couple of hiding places for them to retreat to – one in a warm and cosy location and another somewhere in the house that is cooler. Some pets will prefer to remain close to the family and some will want to go to the quietest part of the home. By testing out a few likely locations prior to firework season you will hopefully be able to identify a few prime spots that work for your pet.
  • Talk to your vet about whether medication is necessary. If you want to avoid conventional medicines there are a few herbal remedies and nutraceutical preparations that your vet may be happy to recommend if they seem appropriate to use in your situation. Acting a few weeks in advance of the problem will open up many more options.

Mostly c’s: In the grip of noise phobia

If you have answered mostly c’s it may be that your pet has moved beyond experiencing a fearful reaction to an outright phobia where the extreme levels of fear experienced can be very distressing for everyone concerned. These pets need help both short and long term to help them get through fireworks season.

Short term

  • Look at all our recommendations for precautions to take for normal and fearful pets as they are all still appropriate and even more important for phobic pets.
  • Talk to your vet as soon as possible about medication. Some medications will not only reduce anxiety but also help your pet block the memories of firework night. This is an important intervention because phobias tend to get worse year on year. The dose that needs to be given to individual animals can vary so you may have to carry out a few trials at home to find the right dose that works for your pet.

Longer term

  • Your vet or pet behaviourist can talk you through a training process that relies on desensitisation and counter-conditioning. Desensitisation is a process that involves exposing your pet to firework noise but at a very low level (usually using a recording played at low level for a short duration). Over time the pet is allowed to get accustomed to the noise at a louder level.

Packages are available that include the recording and full instructions on how to carry out the therapy in the right way. Some pets also benefit from being given some kinds of anxiety reducing medication during the process.

Counterconditioning creates positive associations, like praise, treats and toys, with firework noise. This helps to dispel some of the negative associations your pet might have had.

This training based therapy can take some weeks or months and the effects are reasonably long lived (around 12 months), although intermittent top-ups are recommended.

If it’s too late for you to think about behaviour modification this year, plan for it before next year’s event. If your pet has a phobia it is unlikely to improve spontaneously and will usually get worse each year, so it really is worth the extra effort.

If you own a young puppy or kitten, do make every attempt to create positive associations around fireworks season (use our mostly a’s tips). It has been shown that puppies born in autumn are less likely to experience phobias so it is likely that early exposure to some firework noise in a safe environment is a good thing and part of the process of getting to know what is ‘normal’.

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