Information paper fear for fireworks with dogs and cats
Many dogs and cats are afraid of fireworks. Does this bother your pet? If so, see if it is possible to remove your dog or cat from the situation, for example, by taking your pet on vacation during New Year’s Eve to a fireworks-free area or housing your pet in a good boarding house where fireworks are not set off.
The advice below may help pets with fireworks.
Never leave a fearful pet alone. If you think there will be fireworks, try to stay home with your dog or cat, or have another adult present at home.
Inform people in your surroundings about your pet’s fear. Put up signs at the windows and doors that say “Dog/cat extremely afraid of fireworks: please keep your distance”, or ask your neighbours if they can keep their distance from your house when they set off fireworks.
Take your dog out on New Year’s Eve on time. Make sure he is on a leash so he can’t run away if he gets spooked. Running away is self-rewarding behaviour in which the dog solves his own problem by creating distance between himself and the stimulus, so he will run away more often in the future.
Never leave a cat with fireworks anxiety outside on New Year’s Eve: keep them inside and make sure the cat has enough facilities (food, water, litter box, games, etc.).
Close all windows, curtains, blinds and doors. This not only muffles the sounds, but also the flashes of light. There are also earplugs, headphones or special goggles designed for dogs to reduce noise and light flashes. The dog must be trained to wear these things, so do not use them lightly! Always do this in consultation with your veterinarian.
Leave some lights on and turn on the radio or television, this muffles the sounds from outside.
Do you become nervous of fireworks yourself? Try to remain calm, then you will set a good example for your pet.
You cannot really reward an animal for fearful behaviour. Does your dog get totally panicked? Then don’t pet him, but hold him firmly (don’t do this with a cat) and massage him with long, deep movements. Only do this if it seems to help. Be careful, a dog that really wants to get away can bite. Never hold a cat that is panicking. Let the cat come to your lap (or the dog snuggled up against you) if he feels the need.
You don’t have to ignore your pet if he shows fear. Guide your dog to his safe place and talk to him in a calm and normal way. Try to distract the animal by playing, for example, then fireworks will be linked to something positive.
Reward your animal when he remains calm at the moment that fireworks are set off. Also when your dog or cat looks briefly at the source of the sound, but quickly recovers.
Create a safe place for your pet and train him to go there to find peace. (See “How do I create a safe place for my dog or cat?”).
Always see your veterinarian if you suspect your pet is afraid of fireworks. Sometimes special fireworks training can help reduce the fear. It is important to start this several months in advance. Sometimes an animal is so fearful that medication is needed, make an appointment with your veterinarian well in advance for tailored advice. There are new and good medications that the vet can prescribe to help animals if they are afraid of sounds.
How do I make a safe place for my dog or cat?
Choose a place near people, but as far away from windows and doors as possible, or choose a small room in the house, such as a bathroom, where light and noise do not enter as much. Put your pet’s favourite rug or pillow in this spot. For cats, a safe place is often somewhere hidden in a closet or somewhere high up.
Train your dog by regularly walking to the safe place with something super tasty (make sure the animal sees it). Just before the animal walks in there, give the command “spot” (or another word not yet familiar to the animal). When your pet enters the safe place, reward him with some delicious treat. Do this exercise at least 2 to 3 times a day for 1 to 2 weeks until the dog fully understands the command. After that, you can reward him occasionally with a bone or stuffed Kong so that he stays in the safe place a little longer. Cats can also be trained in a similar way: you can reward them with toys or treats. Stay near your pet when he is in his safe place, and make sure you are visible to him.
If your pet becomes restless during New Year’s Eve, give him your command for “place” and then lead him to the safe place (if he doesn’t go there himself already). Give the animal some treats there for distraction. Is he not interested in this? Then just leave it there, it may well be that he will take it later. Do not force the animal to go to the safe haven, because then the place will become scary.
Make sure your pet always has access to its safe haven, even when you are not at home. Of course, you are supposed to stay home when fireworks are set off. If a crate is used, make sure the door of the crate is always open and make it as “soundproof” as possible by putting blankets over it. Do not use a crate for your cat.
The information in this document was written with care by IVC Evidensia staff, however, the author(s) take no responsibility for any inaccuracies. No rights may therefore be derived from this document.
The recommendations/information are of a general nature. It is possible that these recommendations do not apply in an individual case. In the interest of the individual animal it may therefore be desirable to deviate from the advice.
This document may be copied, printed and distributed in its entirety without the permission of the author(s). It may not be altered or changed in any way.
Information sheet for owners on fireworks anxiety in dogs and cats – November 2021. Written by Valerie Jonckheer-Sheehy (veterinary specialist, dipl. behavioral medicine, dipl. animal welfare). Reviewed by Laura Reifler (SIO behavioral medicine) and Merel Rooijmans (veterinarian- Quality & Compliance).
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