Many pets become very scared of sudden loud bangs and any unusually loud noises. This can develop into a full-blown phobia, often most apparent in response to the sounds of fireworks or thunder. Dogs in particular might tremble pitifully, while attempting to hide in wardrobes/under the stairs, or chew through doors and the like to try and escape. Cats and other small pets (living indoors or outside) will often sit wide eyed and terrified, not knowing what to do or where to go.
There are a number of things which can be done to help. Some of these are simple and easy, others involve more planning and preparation. Here are some of the things to bear in mind:
- Keep animals safe. They are much better kept indoors. Cats should be locked inside (remember the cat flap) and dogs should be exercised before the noises start. Ideally have pets microchipped, so that if they do get out and try and escape, they can be traced more easily.
- Close all doors and windows to help keep the noise out. Close curtains where possible, to help muffle sounds and control flashes of light. Playing music can also help to distract them.
- Try and stay with your pet, and be as calm and relaxed yourself as possible. Do not try to reassure your dog or cat, or make a fuss over him/her, it does not help. Also never show any anger, or try to tell him/her off. Ideally you should shut your pet into a safe area, and stay there yourself. Have something to do, such as read a book or interact quietly with other family members, and ignore what is going on as much as possible. If a dog comes over to you, it is OK to give him/her a quiet stroke, then stop and get back with what you were doing. Making any sort of fuss about things just signals to your pet that there really is a problem and it is worth getting scared about it.
- Try to provide a den or safe place. It should be enclosed and have lots of soft bedding. A wardrobe or cupboard might work. Lots of blankets or old duvets will help to make it cosy and absorb some of the sound. Cats like to get up high and be out of the way. If possible try to leave them in a hiding place. They are best left there if this is what they choose, but try to remain quietly nearby if you can. Being there and being relaxed is a great help.
- Dog Appeasing Pheromones (DAP) or Feliway (the equivalent for cats) can be a significant help. Diffusers which release these calming chemicals into the room are not noticed by us, but are picked up by the animals’ more sensitive noses, encouraging a feeling of being at ease.
- Zylkene is a non-prescription food supplement which is available for dogs and cats. It can have a dramatic calming effect on some individuals, and can be given for the whole of the firework period. For more information on Zylkene, I recommend that you see this article.
- Sometimes mild tranquilising drugs are appropriate, and your vet can probably prescribe useful medication if it is needed. Vets can also provide contact details with qualified animal behaviour therapists, who might be able to help.
- If you know your dog is going to be scared of fireworks, then you can buy the Sounds Scary CDs. These come with a lot of helpful information and can be used to teach your dog to be less afraid of loud noises, including fireworks. It is advised to use this along with a DAP Diffuser.
The Sounds Scary CDs can help with other fear-associated loud noises, such as thunder and gunshots