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Firework anxiety in pets and how to manage stress

Firework displays may be great fun for people, but they can be terrifying for our pets and other animals. Read on to discover why pets react and get anxious when fireworks occur, common signs to identify if your pet is stressed, and how to help your pet cope and stay safe during firework displays.

Understanding firework anxiety in pets

Many pets are highly stressed by the sound of fireworks, so it’s a great idea to try and find out when any fireworks displays are planned in your area (e.g. for key holidays like New Year’s Eve). It is our duty as pet owners to keep our animal companions safe, so planning ahead is necessary to help your pets cope and ensure their emotional wellbeing.

Common signs of anxiety or distress due to fireworks

Fireworks can frighten many animals with their sudden, loud bangs and bright lights exploding in the sky. Common behavioural signs observed in pets during firework displays include hiding, shivering, excessive drooling and cowering. Some dogs may bark, appear agitated, or be unable to settle and rest comfortably.

What to do if your pet suffers from anxiety as a result of fireworks

Try these simple steps to help your pet:

  • Ahead of the expected fireworks time, create a safe environment in a secure space with doors closed and windows covered in blackout curtains or blinds.
  • Provide distractions (e.g. background music, playing with toys) and positive reinforcement (such as treats and praise) for being calm.
  • Consult with your veterinarian – medications can be prescribed to help pets remain calm if given prior to the fireworks starting. See this helpful article for how to medicate your pet.
  • Walk your dog and play with your cat before the fireworks to use up some energy, so they are more likely to be tired or even asleep at the time of the fireworks.
  • Feed prior to the fireworks so your pet is well-fed and relaxed.
  • Snug-fitting anti-anxiety coats can help calm some pets, as can pheromone sprays or diffusers. These should be tested ahead of fireworks time so your pet is familiar with them.
  • Never tie or tether your pet by a collar and leash as they could choke themselves if they panic.
  • Training techniques implemented in the months prior to fireworks, such as ‘desensitisation’ (playing a soundtrack of fireworks softly, then louder over time) and ‘counter conditioning’ (giving treats during the fireworks soundtrack) may help your pet cope better with fireworks in real life.

Some animals may panic and can even jump through windows and over fences, putting them at risk of being lost, injured or killed on the roads. Ensure your pet is microchipped and wearing a collar with identification should they stray from your property.

How to calm dogs down during fireworks

  • Create a calm and quiet space for your dog: Confine your pet in this area and ensure it’s a part of the home they are familiar with.
  • Play soothing music or white noise: Classical music has been found to be relaxing to dogs, you could also try white noise e.g. from a radio or fans to help drown out the sound of the fireworks.
  • Distract your dog with engaging activities or toys: Sniffing is relaxing to dogs so a snuffle mat, treat dispenser toy or chew may help. Never scold or punish your pet for being scared as this may worsen their anxiety.

How to calm cats down during fireworks

  • Create a safe retreat space for your cat: Ensure your cat is confined safely indoors prior to the start of the fireworks.
  • Provide hiding spots and vertical perches for security: Cats love to have access to hiding spots or elevated positions. A cat tower is an easy way to achieve this. Cardboard boxes are a cheap alternative.
  • Engage in interactive play or gentle brushing to divert attention: Gentle playing, treat dispenser toys or brushing may help your cat stay calm. Pheromone spray or diffusers may also help your cat relax.

Don’t be afraid to seek help

Fireworks anxiety is a common cause of stress in pets. Be prepared to stay home with your pet, prepare a safe space in your house, and speak to your vet about medications and training for pets stressed by fireworks.

If you have concerns about your pet’s health, always consult your vet. RSPCA Pet Insurance provides a range of cover options for dogs and cats from the age of just 8 weeks to consider and if you’re with RSPCA Pet Insurance, a portion of first-year premiums will go towards supporting the valuable work of the RSPCA.

Dr Catherine Tiplady bio image

Dr Catherine Tiplady

Dr Catherine Tiplady studied veterinary science at the University of Queensland. After graduation, Dr Catherine worked in veterinary practice whilst undertaking postgraduate research in Animal Welfare, gaining additional degrees in Bachelor of Applied Science (Animal Studies) (Hons 1) and a PhD. Dr Catherine has published widely in peer reviewed scientific journals and has also authored a book, ‘Animal Abuse: Helping Animals and People’. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Catherine also has her own business performing gentle in-home pet euthanasia and provides veterinary care and desexing services for animal welfare charities. Dr Catherine brings her passion for animal welfare, love of writing and scientific training together to contribute quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance’s Pet Care blog.