Every year, as we approach Bonfire Night as a responsible Firework supplier that the impact on small animals should be addressed before the season starts.
There are a series of simple steps we can all take to help smaller animals and pets stay safe and reduce their anxiety. Here are a few suggestions, as suggested by the RSPCA and Blue Cross animal charities:
• Keep cats and dogs inside
• Under no circumstances should you leave your pet tied up outside or take them along to a display – this is cruel and unnecessary
• Don’t leave your pet alone for too long
• Give them more bedding to burrow in – they will feel more secure
• Bring cages/hutches indoors – into a quiet room, shed or garage. If this is not feasible, cover their cages over or turn them into a wall if they face the garden
• Cover any aviaries/hutches with thick blankets or a duvet to block the sound of the fireworks out
• Make sure you walk your dog early doors – bear in mind that from darkness falling, there will be any number of fireworks around so you will reduce your dog’s stress levels
• Close all curtains, doors and close any cat/dog flaps to stop pets escaping to avoid the noise – they may disappear for good
• If your pet is used to having the noise of the TV, radio or music around, put them on to drown out some of the firework sounds
• Prepare a den perhaps under your bed with some old clothes and their favourite toys – it will help to keep them calm
• Let your dog/cat pace, whine, miaow or bark – if you try to comfort them, you may add to their distress
There have also been incidences over the last few years where horses have bolted, and in some cases, received serious injury. Again, you should plan ahead:
• Check if there are any firework events planned nearby
• Let organisers know if you have horses stabled in the immediate area to ensure that they set up as far from the field as possible
• Check what time the fireworks are due to start – this is at least the point you can ensure your equine friends are stabled if that is the direction you plan to go
• Check fencing is secure and there is nothing lying in the paddock which could cause injury
• Decide whether your horse (and only you know how they are likely to react) will need to be in the stable or out in the field
• If you are putting your horse in the stables, put a radio on to drown out some of the noise and leave it as well lit as possible (this helps to disguise the flashes from the pyrotechnics which can also frighten horses/pets)
• Check your insurance is up to date as you may be held liable for damage caused in the event your horse escapes.
Above all, remember that Bonfire Night is meant to be fun and has been part of the culture for over 400 years so let’s try to keep it safe for everyone including all our pets and of course ourselves.
Each year, tens of thousands of dog/cats are frightened by fireworks but there are lots of steps that can be taken to help alleviate some of their suffering as supplied by the peeps at Dogs Trust.
Like most animals, loud noises can adversely affect dogs and cats in particular as they have particularly sensitive hearing, but you can certainly do things to help your pets out.
Gun dogs, for example, are not born tolerant of loud noises but are trained and effectively de-sensitised to the sounds by use of the following tips:
Before the fireworks begin:
• Walk your dog before dark – it would appear to be a simple instruction but people tend to walk their dogs later in the evening when the fireworks may have already begun – get the walk in early to avoid distress
• Feed your dog before the fireworks begin as he may become unsettled
• Make sure your house and garden are secure as your pet may try to escape.
• Try to settle your dog in familiar surroundings before the fireworks begin
• Provide a safe hiding place – at noisy times around Bonfire Night, make sure your dog has somewhere safe in his or her favourite room, perhaps under the table. Close the curtains, turn the lights on, and turn up the volume on your TV or radio to drown out the firework noises.
During the fireworks:
• Don’t punish your dog for cowering or reacting to the fireworks as this will intensify his fear. You should aim to remain relaxed and therefore provide a good role model to your dog when he is afraid. However, if your dog comes to you for comfort don’t ignore him – interact with him calmly.
• Don’t leave your dog alone in the house during the fireworks period – he may panic and this could result in an injury.
• Keep your dog busy indoors – play games or enjoy some reward-based training to keep his mind off the noises. However, if he just wants to hide away then don’t force him to come out of his hiding place, allow him to stay where he feels safe.
Longer term treatment:
If you think that your dog gets worried by loud noises, contact your vet to see if there’s an underlying health problem first, and to help you find a qualified behaviourist. Your vet will also be able to discuss whether medication might be helpful.
Programmes of behaviour therapy recommended will vary for each dog, but may include the following elements:
• Establishing a consistent way for your dog to cope. This often involves teaching a dog to use a den to hide when he is worried. This might require you to gradually change your dog’s ‘coping’ response away from one that relies on your attention so that he’s more able to cope with loud noises if they occur when you’re not home.
• Gradually teaching your dog that noises are not scary through a process called ‘desensitisation and counter-conditioning’. This usually involves playing recorded versions of the scary noises but starting at such a low volume that your dog is not worried by them. The volume and direction of sounds are changed over time, but so slowly that your dog does not show any signs of fear. The sounds should also be associated with something that he enjoys, such as high value treats or a game.
Here at Epic, we are dedicated animal lovers and have our share of cats, dogs and other small animals in our care both at home and the wildlife on site here at Tankersley. We have quite the menagerie living on site including a family of stoats which go white in winter with a little black tip on their tails, magpies, rabbits, squirrels, hedgehogs and water hens (yes, we have a large pond at the back of the site which plays home to the water hens and a colony of Great Crested Newts).
In a recent conversation with the local representatives of the Cats Protection League, we were horrified to learn of the number of feral kittens that they receive calls about that have been badly burned in Bonfires so it is not just hedgehogs you need to check your Bonfire for.
As in the past, if you are having a Bonfire Night event with a fire to keep everyone warm, please remember to stack the wood and combustible materials beforehand, checking carefully for feral kittens, hedgehogs, mice and rabbits.
This Bonfire Season remember the golden rules:
Keep your dog/cat indoors with a drink of water and a deep bed or perhaps an old duvet (in case they foul it) for them to hide in.
Walk your dog whilst it is still daylight
Put on the TV or radio to drown some of the noise from fireworks
Draw curtains or blinds wherever possible to keep the flashes hidden
Bring hutches with rabbits or other small mammals inside and cover with a blanket to keep the noise as low as possible and provide extra hay or bedding material for them to burrow in.
Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should a dog be allowed at a display as even if they are not gun-shy (or do not react to fireworks) and are OK around crowds, a big display could have any number of tiny babies and toddlers that may be distressed and screaming which will upset your pet, particularly if you have children yourself
Thundershirt – this is a patented design product which applies constant pressure to a dog’s upper body which has been proven to keep them calm. If you don’t want to go to the expense of buying one (they range from around £15 for a toy dog to around £50 for a Labrador sized one), if you get a wide crepe bandage (long) and bind your dogs chest area, it lowers anxiety and helps your dog to feel more secure.
If your pet is of a particularly anxious nature, you could contact your vet for some DAP or Dog Appeasing Pheromone plug in. You just plug it in the room where your pets are and leave them to remain calm.
Be mindful of letting your neighbours know if you are having a Bonfire or Fireworks display on a day other than the 5th November so that they can keep their pets in and safe too.