Bonfire night always holds a certain magic for me, wrapping up warm and being enthralled by fireworks. Since getting my current dog, however, it brings a certain dread. He is terrified of all the sounds and smells.
Socialisation from a young age is crucial to help cats and dogs learn that it is nothing to be afraid of, but in some cases this isn’t enough. For these animals preparation is key.
Identify an area where your pet feels safe and can hide, ideally in a quiet room with few windows, near the centre of the house. Use this area to create a refuge. Install a pheromone diffuser or use a spray (Feliway or Adaptil), which mimic the chemical produced by the dam to calm newborns. These need to be switched on for at least a week prior to the event. There are also oral relaxants.
Put old blankets and an item of your clothing in the refuge to give them something to burrow and hide in, with familiar smells. Provide food and water, and a few special treats and toys, which may act as a distraction. If your pet is not interested, don’t force them. Get your pet used to using this refuge, and give them a treat whenever they are in there.
On the day, try to take your dog for a long walk during daylight, and play with your cat. Well-exercised dogs are more likely to relax. Close windows and curtains. If possible these should be thick to block light and noise, or try hanging blankets at the windows.
Moderately loud rhythmic music can mask the sounds so if your pet is used to music this is can be useful.
Make sure your dog has no opportunity to bolt; ensure all gates and fences are closed and the dog is on a lead when out. Avoid walking phobic dogs after dark.
If your pet is not prone to stomach upsets, a large stodgy, carbohydrate-rich meal, such as pasta or potato, can make them calm and sleepy. If your pet has been prescribed medication to control anxiety these should be given exactly as directed.
Once the noises start, encourage your pet into the refuge. Do not be tempted to get cross with them for being frightened and it is equally important not to try to soothe them as this suggests there is something to be frightened of. As soon as they relax, reward them with affection. Try to ignore the noises yourself and act relaxed.
Nothing will be a quick fix, but I hope this makes it easier.
By Amy Chapman, Vet