Managing pets during fireworks or thunderstorms

Pets and fireworks can be difficult to manage, and thunderstorm anxiety is one of the most prevalent phobias in animals. Dogs and horses often run away when they are frightened by fireworks or thunderstorms, resulting in them getting lost or even injured.

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.

Fireworks and thunderstorm safety tips for pets

The following information is appropriate for domestic pets, especially cats and dogs. Horses can also become extremely anxious from loud noises and escape – we recommend you consult your equine vet for advice on preparing your horses.

  • Make sure your pet is microchipped and is wearing their identification tag so you can be reunited if they escape.
  • Create a ‘safe place’ for your pet to retreat to with blankets or clothing that has a familiar smell. It might be their favourite spot in the house such as under the bed or inside a wardrobe. Crate training is also an excellent option that will aid your pet to feel safe during times of stress.
  • 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. Allow them to enter or exit the room freely.
  • If you are expecting fireworks, take your dog for a walk in the early afternoon to tire it out.
  • Keep your pet inside if possible, in the lead up to and after the fireworks or thunderstorms. Cover any windows in this room to further block out noise and to block out flashes of lightning or fireworks.
  • Close bird cages, rabbit hutches and other fixed enclosures and ensure the pet door and windows are closed and locked.
  • Secure your property by closing gates and making sure fences are in good condition.
  • Do not punish your pet for exhibiting behaviours that are caused by stress. These behaviours may include destructiveness, howling/barking/whining, pacing, or attempts to escape/hide.
  • Attempt to engage, distract and reassure your pet that everything is OK, but don’t ‘force’ this if it becomes particularly distressed. Food puzzles and enrichment toys are great for this.
  • 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.
  • Have food and toys available in the room such as Kong toys, bones, treat balls 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 radio maybe a safe way to incorporate noise for distraction into this room.

If you are not home during thunderstorms or fireworks

If you know you will not be home during thunderstorms of fireworks, there are a few additional things to consider:

  • Ensure there is plenty of water and some food left for your pet.
  • Take your dog to the toilet before locking it up, or if you have a cat, remember to put kitty litter in the room.
  • Return home as quickly as possible to check on your pet and take them out to the toilet after the noises have subsided, keeping them on a leash when you do just in case they become spooked.
  • Do not punish your pet for any damage/bad behaviour on your return. Being fearful is an emotional and instinctual response an animal cannot control.

Dealing with your pet’s noise phobia

Reassuring and comforting your anxious pet is okay, as long as you do it calmly. Attempt to distract them with toys, a game, enrichment, food puzzles or even some basic training using treats – anything to keep their mind busy and to encourage them to do something fun.

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 year’s eve so you may need to schedule your visit to the vet before Christmas.

Desensitisation

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

  • You can easily find videos of fireworks or thunderstorm noises on YouTube.
  • Start playing the noises at a soft volume and gradually work up to a louder volume.
  • While the loud noises are on, give your pet treats and play games with it so that it associates positive things with the loud noises. Or feed them their dinner or breakfast.
  • 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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