Whether you go to an organised display, host a party or just enjoy a few fireworks and some treacle toffee in your back garden, Bonfire Night is a great British tradition that celebrates our history and helps bring a sense of autumnal excitement as the nights draw in. For our pets, however, it’s often much more frightening than any Halloween scariness.
Both dogs and cats can be spooked and upset throughout the build up to Bonfire Night, as well as during the crescendo of November 5th itself. And it’s hardly surprising. Not only does the sound of the fireworks frighten many pets but the smoke and smells associated with both fireworks and bonfires can be disturbing too. Whether you’re concerned about your pet’s first Bonfire Night or already know that the furry members of your family are upset by it every year, there are several things you can do to reduce their stress and ensure they remain safe and secure.
It seems that firework season begins earlier and earlier each year, with many people combining Halloween and Bonfire Night in a single celebration, so it’s good to start a routine of ensuring your dog or cat is indoors during the hours of darkness when it’s most likely that people will be setting off fireworks.
For dog owners, this may mean changing your walking routine to exercise your pet much earlier in the evening, particularly as the end of British Summer Time means that it now goes dark an hour earlier. If that’s not feasible for you, the next best thing is to consider changing your route to avoid places where people are most likely to be setting off fireworks, such as parks, open ground and derelict sites. Don’t be tempted to reduce walk times or cut them out altogether, however, because a tired dog is less alert so will be more likely to sleep through the noise.
For cat owners, keeping your pet indoors during the hours of darkness can also be challenging. A good tip is to call them into your home for their favourite cat food before it goes dark - ensuring that it offers complete nutrition rather than training your pet to expect a treat – and then ensuring that your feline family member does not go back outside, restricting their access to any cat flaps if necessary.
Indeed, where cats are concerned, Bonfire Night brings with it the added peril that you pet may not only become scared but could also become trapped if it decides to take refuge from the loud noises and strange scents by hiding. Cats have even been known to hide within a Bonfire that’s been built ready for lighting on 5th November so it’s vitally important that cats are kept indoors when it’s dark as much as possible.
Unfortunately, even inside the house, pets are often distressed by the sounds and scents of Bonfire Night. There are commercially available sprays, plugins and collars that are designed to help calm your pet and these can be useful for some cats and dogs. However, this can be costly and may not be a complete solution for your pet. Whether you choose to use these products or not, it’s important to create a calm atmosphere in your home by avoiding any unnecessary changes to routine and staying at home with your pet as much as possible. You may also be able to make subtle changes that help to sound proof your home a little more than usual, by shutting internal doors, for example, closing the curtains or adding extra blankets to your pet’s bed so that they have a safe haven from the noise.
If your pet does become distressed, the best strategy is distraction rather than comfort. As hard as it may be to resist the urge to simply cuddle your cat or dog, this simply rewards their anxiety rather than giving them the resilience they will need to cope with future Bonfire Nights. Instead, try playing with them, offering them their favourite toy or using background noise such as a TV, radio or washing machine to counter the loud bang of fireworks.
Needless to say, if you can, it’s best to stay with your cat or dog in your home during the period around Bonfire Night as it’s impossible to know what their response will be; even a pet that usually copes well can easily be spooked by an extra loud bang or a firework that’s set off very near to your home.
We all want the best for our pets, that’s why we spend so much time and effort selecting the right nutrition and making them part of our families. At this time of year, they just need a little extra thought and care to keep them safe and make them feel secure.