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Fireworks and thunderstorms



The loud noises associated with summer thunderstorm season is one of the most prevalent phobias in animals, and result in tens of thousands of them  demonstrating destructive behaviour, escaping from their properties and injuring themselves.

Quick tips


The following information is appropriate for domestic pets, especially cats and dogs but may be useful for other domestic animals too. Horses can also become extremely anxious from loud noises and escape - we recommend you consult your equine vet for advice on preparing your horses.
  • Do not punish your pet for exhibiting his behaviour during times of stress.
  • Attempt to engage, distract and reassure your pet that everything is OK, but don't 'force' this if it becomes particularly distressed.
  • Provide access to a safe area where your pet may feel more at ease. Animals usually indicate their preferences such as under a bed or inside a wardrobe. Allow it to go where it wants to feel safe. Close bird cages, rabbit hutches and other fixed enclosures and ensure the pet door and windows are closed and locked.
  • Make sure that your boundary fences and gates are secure and that your pet cannot readily escape through them or over them.
  • Ensure that your pet wears identification, particularly a microchip. In the unfortunate event that your pet should escape from your property, it will run blindly away without regard to where it is going. When it eventually calms down it will probably not know where it is or how to return. A microchip gives you the greatest chance that you and your pet will be reunited.
  • If you know that your pet is extremely fearful of thunderstorms, consult your vet to see if he or she can prescribe medication that will calm it in known times of stress.

Help your pet to deal with its fear one step at a time


Eliminating pet anxiety and phobia of loud noises will take time and a planned approach. It is not easy but through a combination of desensitisation, distraction, providing a comforting environment and where needed medication, you should be able to reduce your animal’s anxiety and keep your pet safe.

1. Preparation
2. When owner is away
3. When owner is at home
4. Deal with pet's anxiety
5. Desensitisation


Preparation

Follow these tips to prepare your pet for the fireworks season.

  • Ensure your pet’s microchip details and council registration details are up-to-date and that your pet is wearing a collar/ID tag with your current phone number.
  • Keep your pet in a secure indoor area during fireworks and thunderstorms - a laundry or garage is good if you have an outdoor pet. Alternatively, crate train your pet, then settle it in the crate for the duration of the fireworks.
  • Create a hideout for your pet in a quiet room with as few windows as possible.
  • Cover any windows in this room to further block out noise and to block out flashes of lightening or fireworks.
  • Create a bed from blankets for burrowing and put an unwashed tracksuit or a similar item in the room so that the pet has your scent. Alternatively, prepare your pet’s crate in a similar way.
  • A few days or more before the fireworks, start taking your pet into the room/crate and giving it treats on the blankets so that it gets comfortable.
  • If you are expecting fireworks, take you dog for a walk in the early afternoon to tire it out.
  • Have food available in the room such as kongs, bones, treatballs and long-lasting treats. Extended chewing will help calm dogs and stimulation will distract them.
  • Put on moderately loud music or a TV to muffle loud outside noises and to distract your pet. A small battery operated radio maybe a safe way to incorporate noise for distraction into this room.
  • Desensitising your pet to loud noises is a good option if you have time to invest and can do it in advance of fireworks

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When owner is away

If you won't be home during the fireworks, make sure your pet will be safe.

  • Lock your pet in the hideout/safe room or crate that you have prepared. This will minimise the chance of your pet injuring itself or escaping if it becomes distressed.
  • Ensure there is plenty of water and some food in the room/crate.
  • Take your dog to the toilet before locking it up, or if you have a cat, remember to put kitty litter in the room.
  • Beware: if you are leaving the pet unattended in a room and it becomes anxious, it may behave erratically so ensure there are no dangerous items that the pet could chew on or knock. Cords and cabling and any breakables should be removed.
  • Ensure the room is secure – pets can become very determined to escape when frightened.
  • If you are planning to medicate your pet, ensure that you follow the dosage instructions exactly and medicate before anxiety sets in. Discuss your plans with your vet.
  • Return home as quickly as possible to check on your pet and take it out to the toilet after the noises have subsided, keeping it on a leash when you do, just in case it's still upset or becomes spooked.
  • Do not punish your pet for any damage/bad behaviour on your return. Being fearful is an emotional and instinctual response which an animal cannot control.

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When owner is at home

During fireworks or thunderstorms, the best thing you can do for your pet is provide it with a safe and comfortable environment and give it no further reason to be fearful. Having you there will help provide your pet with comfort and support.

  • If you are medicating your pet, remember to do so before any anxiety sets in. Ensure you follow the dosage instructions that your vet has given you, and work out a plan to get your pet to consume the medication in the most normal or least stressful way possible (such as hiding it in its dinner).
  • Before the fireworks start, take your pet into the safe room and scatter some treats to keep it distracted and happy to be in the room. It's probably advisable to allow your pet to exit and enter this room freely if it is accustomed to roaming freely around the house.
  • When the fireworks start, continue with normal activities and keep your voice in a typical tone. This will give your pet no reason to think that there may be something worrying or unusual about the situation.
  • If your pet becomes anxious, do not change your behaviour or voice. Maintain normal behaviour with the pet.

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Dealing with your pet's anxiety

If your pet becomes extremely anxious around loud noises, you should immediately begin desensitisation training or visit your vet to discuss medication options. Anti-anxiety and sedative medication can help and your vet will be able to give you the correct dosage for your pet.

Contact your local council and check your local paper to find out where and when festivities, particularly fireworks in your local area are planned. Some councils permit fireworks at Christmas festivals in addition to New Years Eve so you may need to schedule your visit to the vet before Christmas.

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Desensitisation

Gradually exposing your dog to loud noises may, in time, desensitise your dog to the fear it associates with loud noises.


  • CDs of frightening noises are available from RSPCA veterinary clinics or you could find videos of fireworks on YouTube.
  • Start playing the noises at a soft volume and after many times played over an extended period of time, gradually work up to a louder volume.
  • While the loud noises are on, give your dog treats and play games with it so that it associates positive things with the loud noises.
  • If your pet shows any fear or becomes distressed when listening to the CD, turn the volume right down, allow your pet’s fear to dissipate then start the process again, progressing very slowly.

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  Behaviour and training
> Learn more

 
RSPCA vet clinics
> Learn more


 
 

More information
Update microchip details
> Ensure your pet's microchip details are updated

Summary information sheets
> Protecting your pets during fireworks
> Essential tips flyer

Contact your local council
Ask your local council to ban fireworks or at least notify residents in advance



 
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