Out with the old and in with the new! New Year’s Eve is traditionally a time to wrap up the year by celebrating with friends and family. Although it is often an evening of fun, frolics and fireworks for us, it can be a time of anxiety and distress for our pets.
Dogs, cats and rabbits are particularly sensitive to noise. At 150 decibels, fireworks can be as loud as a jet engine and can be very frightening and upsetting for them.
Around one in 14 vets across the country reported seeing animals with firework-related injuries during 2018, in the British Veterinary Association (BVA) Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey last December.
The most commonly reported cases were self-injuries caused by fireworks-related anxiety: for example, a dog who tried to escape from its kennel and in the process, pulled out all of its front teeth and another escaping from the home and being run over by a passing car.
Pets kept in cages and tanks such as hamsters, ferrets, fish, and birds are also vulnerable to distress when there are large gatherings of people, smoke or loud music in the home.
Signs of distress can differ from animal to animal with some pets showing obvious signs such as panting, drooling and attempts to escape, and others showing more subtle signs including restlessness and toileting in the house. Cats often hide while rabbits may keep very still and thump the ground with their back feet.
BVA President and small animal vet, Daniella Dos Santos, said: “Fireworks phobia and distress in pets is an issue that vets often see around New Year’s Eve. Even if you don’t expect your pet to be anxious, consider making things as comfortable as possible for them to help them through the evening.
“There are various things that owners can do to help their pets including providing your pet with a cosy, dark den to help them feel safe, closing curtains and turning the lights off. Having the radio or television on low in the background can also help. If you are having a party, remember to move any small pets in cages or tanks to a quiet area of the house.
“If your pet is significantly distressed by fireworks, we’d encourage you to speak to your local vet as early as possible to discuss possible treatment options that may help in the long term. Remember to check the out of hours, emergency opening times for the Christmas period.”
To help keep your pets safe and fear-free, BVA offers the following tips:
- Start creating a well-padded den for your pet to access ahead of NYE so they have a safe place to hide when fireworks or loud music start. Pheromone products, prescribed by your vet, can also be used next to your pets’ den and around the house to help calm them.
- Close windows and curtains and provide background noise such as calm music to help mask the fireworks.
- If you are thinking of throwing a party, move small pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs to a quiet place.
- Passive smoking can have a serious impact on the health of pets so keep smoking and vaping away from them.
- If your pet is distressed, remain calm yourself – trying to reassure your pet can inadvertently reinforce the coping strategy of seeking attention, and restlessness or toileting in the house can be signs of stress, so don’t punish them.
- Ensure your pet is microchipped and your details are up to date on the database, in case it runs away from home.
- If you know that your pet is prone to serious distress due to fireworks or other noises, contact your local vet in advance to discuss treatment options. With patience and commitment, a phobia of fireworks can be effectively treated with appropriate behaviour-modification techniques.
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