Remember, remember your pets this November. It’s coming round to that time of year again. I’m sure we all have happy memories of fun and excitement around bonfire night, but it’s important to remember that not everyone enjoys it as much as we do. For many pets it is an incredibly stressful time.
There are lots of things we can do to keep stress to a minimum, and putting a little thought and preparation in beforehand can have a huge impact on helping your pet to cope with the added noise and excitement. Sometimes small steps such as giving them a cosy den or hideaway filled with positive associations (can be achieved by offering treats and toys inside it) where they can feel safe, or keeping the TV or radio on to mask some of the noise will be enough. Distractions around this time are also useful in taking their mind off any anxiety, so providing enrichment in the form of a new toy, a food toy or chew, or playing an interactive game with them may help, but make sure you don’t force any interaction. Let them choose if they would like to be with you, but if they’d rather hide then that’s ok too. It’s a good idea not to leave them on their own, someone should be around to keep an eye on them as sometimes fear can make pets behave unpredictably. Try not to fuss your pet as you may inadvertently reward nervous behaviour and confirm that there is something to worry about!
One thing that I believe is often overlooked is using a Sound Desensitisation Programme to accustom your pet to the noises they might experience throughout their life. This does take some prior planning and it’s too late to prepare for this year’s festivities, but it is well worth planning for next year and putting the work in early. There are lots of free resources that can be found online, all you need is a recording of fireworks noises and anything else your pet might find frightening. They can be started on such a low volume that they can barely be heard and then gradually increased as and when your pet is comfortable. The idea here is not to ever push your pet to the point that they are anxious or fearful, but to gradually expand their comfort zone until these noises are no longer a problem for them. It is useful training even if your pet isn’t overly anxious, and can be a great preparation for puppies and kittens.
If you are worried that you may need to do more to keep your pet anxiety free this November, there are medication options that can help. Pheromone diffusers such as Adaptil (also available in a collar) or Feliway are good ways of keeping stress to a minimum. There are also various supplements such as YuCalm and Kalmaid, which can promote calming during periods of anxiety. Other medications are available as well, so you are best off having a discussion with your vet to come up with the best plan going forward.