As we usher in the Year of the Rabbit with fireworks, we often forget that while loud booms and flashing fireworks make humans "oooooo" and "awwww", this awesome show could chase our dogs and cats from the safety of their homes.
Pets become disoriented and end up miles away, and those are the lucky ones. Many more meet their fate by running frantically into the path of a car.
Be a responsible Pet Parent this Chinese New Year and make sure you provide a safe environment for your four-legged best friends.
Prepare Your Pet for Fireworks - The 5 Do'
Chinese New Year is when pets are exposed to the unpredictable loud bangs and flashes of fireworks. Pets simply don't understand what's going on and many are really scared of the whole process. And, unfortunately, they are now subjected to this on a more frequent basis – it's no longer a once a year event.
If you know your dog or cat is scared of fireworks, or think he might be, or if you have a puppy or kitten.
NOW IS THE TIME TO PREPARE!
Many pets are successfully helped through desensitisation. CDs are now available, which simulates the random and unpredictable noises of fireworks. It should be played several weeks prior to the fireworks season, gradually building up the volume and length of time it is played. Your pet will then gradually become used to the noises and begin to ignore them.
Whilst playing the CD, you should also take the opportunity to distract your pet. Either play with him, or give him some training lessons, or give him his favourite toy or chew. This will increase the effect of the desensitisation program by making your pet think on something else whilst the background noise is going on.
However, also allow your pet some time without this distraction to hear the noise. Hopefully the CD will manage to accustom your pet to the noise so that he'll completely ignore it. However it is really best to be completely prepared and allow him every chance to cope.
Create a safe, comfortable and quiet den area for him. Ideally, this should be in a place which is furthest from the fireworks, and where he is used to resting. The room should be able to be darkened to hide the firework flashes.
Prepare the area in advance, with lots of comfy blankets to allow him to burrow into if he wants to, and take him there several times before the event, allowing him to settle there with a chew or toy for a while, and feed him there a few times too.
Make sure however, that he is free to come and go to this area, taking care not to lock him in the room alone.
Some pets find the most unusual place to seek comfort. It has been known for them to hide under desks, in kitchen cabinets and even in the bath! Don't be concerned about this, just work with your pet and think about how they may be finding their chosen place secure. It may even be helpful to provide a pet crate covered with a blanket or a large cardboard box, both filled with comfortable bedding, favourite toys and some water.
So, really take some time to think about this – from your pet's point of view - and set up the area where they are most happy. Perhaps they might like to lie under a table covered with a blanket.
If you already know that your dog is scared and that he needs some further help then using a DAP along with the CD will be very useful. DAP stands for Dog Appeasing Pheromone. It's a plug in device, similar to an air freshener, which releases calming pheromones into the air. It should be plugged in, in the room where the pet spends most time and switched on 24 hours a day for about 2 weeks prior to, the fireworks. (the DAP can be useful for other behavioural problems too).
Feliway is a similar product for cats.
There are several additional steps which can be taken on the day of the event
• Check that the den area is accessible, and prepared.
• Take your dog for a walk to make sure he has been to the toilet before the fireworks start.
• Feed him an hour before the event, adding some potato or white pasta to fill him up and make him sleepy
• If you can, set up some rhythmic music in the room. This can help to mask out the noise, so turn it up to a moderate level. Do, however, check that he likes it beforehand – and turn it off if he doesn't, or seems more stressed.
• When the fireworks start, take your pet to his den area and encourage him to settle there.
• Do NOT try to pat and stroke him in an attempt to sooth him if he is showing signs of stress. This simply rewards how he is behaving and teaches him that he's right to be scared. Don't let him know that you're concerned.
• Instead, if he's not settling in his den, try to distract him with a game or an easy training session, but don't force him to play.
• You may even want to consider setting up a TV in the “safe” room and simply sitting in there with him. Normal quiet, family company may help to calm him.
And a word on safety
During high levels of stress, pets can be very unpredictable. They also become unable to take account of their personal safety, and may well panic. Therefore, it is your responsibility to look after their safety needs. Make sure that they have no access to potentially dangerous items around the house, such as open fires or glass doors. Really take the time to do a house safety check. And if you need to take him outside – at any time when a firework may go off - make sure that he is kept safe on the lead.