Help Your Pets Cope With Fireworks And Thunderstorms

Help your pets cope with fireworks and thunderstorms – especially if your pet is terrified of loud bangs!

There’re many things you can do to teach puppies and kittens how to tolerate loud noises.

AND there’s also something that can be done for older dogs and cats too. 

HELP YOUR PETS COPE WITH FIREWORKS AND THUNDERSTORMS – PUPPIES AND KITTENS

There’s a window period where this type of learning is most effective in young pets.

It can still be done in older pets though – it just takes longer and tend to be without the same dramatic results.  

For most dogs, this window period is up to approximately 16 weeks. This time frame can vary though – e.g the window period for German Shepherds is up to 14 weeks, up to 12 weeks for Australian Cattle Dogs, and up to 20 weeks for Labradors. 

In kittens, this period is MUCH shorter. Their window period is only up to 8 weeks!   

WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN THIS WINDOW IS OVER?

This means that your pet will, in all likelihood, react poorly to anything new that they haven’t encountered before.

WHAT DO PETS DO WHEN THEY ENCOUNTER LOUD NOISES

They’ll respond using what we call one of the “5F hazard avoidance strategies”.  

Pets use 4 strategies when they are frightened: flight, fight, freeze or fidget. Birds and rats will use the fifth one: faint.  

Because of this short window period where you can teach your pets what life is all about and how to cope with strange things like fireworks and thunderstorms. This is exactly why behaviourists, trainers and vets put so much emphasis on attending a good puppy or kitten socialization class. 

So, if you’re getting a kitten or puppy, make sure you socialize and habituate them to everything, before that window period is over.

HOW TO TEACH YOUR YOUNG PET TO COPE WITH LOUD NOISES

Playing loud music / thunder noises / firework sounds (YOUTUBE is a great source) and slamming doors help make sure that your pet learns to associate that sound with his favourite things.

So playing the sounds and hand-feeding them treats every time there’s a loud bang or playing their favourite game while those sounds are playing in the background is key. 

Fetch, tug and ‘find me’ are favourites for dogs, but you can also teach them to associate the loud noises with a much enjoyed activity, like a stuffed KONG.

For cats – hunting type games are usually firm favourites. These games work best when using teaser toys such as WAND TOYS .  You can dart and drag these toy all over the house!  

If you periodically expose your pet to loud noises and always pair it with a pleasant outcome – you’ll help them maintain a positive association with the experience.

PREPARING YOU ADULT PET

The single most important part of helping your adult dog or cat cope with fireworks and thunderstorms is to provide them with a den or a safe space and teach them that this is their safe space BEFORE the stressful event happens. 

This means your dog and cat needs to learn (when they’re calm) that this space is where they are safe and happy.  

To do this, follow these guidelines:

1. This space must be enclosed, preferably soundproof, and very comfortable. 

Your pet must want to spend time there.  Look at the places he/she is already using as everyday resting spaces and try to copy that.  It has to be an enclosed area though – going to ground when scared or finding a safe hiding place is instinctive for both dogs and cats. Think along the lines of a den – so covered, dark, smallish (so it’s a comfortable fit, but not too big) and with only one entrance. 

Cats like to be inside cupboards and cat igloos, or under beds/couches and duvets.  If your cat has a favourite spot, consider using FELIWAY in this area as that will make it feel even more secure and will have a calming effect on your cat’s emotional state. 

Dogs like places with the same ‘feel’– under desks, in hanging wardrobes, under beds or in a crate. For dogs, you can use ADAPTIL to cement the feeling of relaxation and safety. 

2. This safe space MUST be available to your dog or cat 24/7, whether you are home or not. 

If your dog’s safe space is inside or under the bed, but you’re not home when a firework is set off or there’s a thunderstorm, he’s going to panic and will do his best to get to his safe space. So make sure that you either have a duplicate, conditioned (that he’s used to) safe space outside, or your pet has access indoors 24/7. 

It is a good idea to introduce a safe space outdoors anyway It needs to be in a secure corner, under cover, and preferably with an entrance facing a wall or the corner, so they can hide in it without having watch the scary lights flashing – cues that add to the panic. 

Make sure there’s a comfortable bed inside, and that it’s as soundproof as possible. Simply line the kennel or box with egg boxes inside, and don’t forget the roof.  Condition (teach) your dog and cat that this is a safe space too, by following the steps mentioned in point 4 below.  

NOTE
there has to be one safe space per pet, per household. 

Start the conditioning process when your dog or cat is calm – during everyday life where he isn’t frightened. Make sure your pet has a microchip or a collar with your contact details on all the time, in case an unexpected situation arises and your pet bolts.

3.  How to introduce your dog or cat to their safe space:

  • If the space is indoors, it must be away from doors and windows. Preferably somewhere in the middle of a room and next to something else that gives the feeling of sturdiness (couch, bed, etc.) or in a cupboard for cats.   
  • There must be one per pet, per household.  
  • Make sure your pet can get to it every single moment of every single night and day. 
  • When introducing a safe space for cats, consider using FELIWAY SPRAY. For dogs, you can use ADAPTIL, as mentioned earlier. 
  • Feed your cat or dog all his meals in this safe space and encourage them to sleep there at night. 
  • For dogs, provide lots of blankets in the den as they like to burrow under things to feel safe. 
  • Whenever you see your dog or cat in their safe space, don’t disturb them. Hide treats in there for them to find, but when they are in their safe space, they are off-limits. This is particularly important for households with children. 
  • You can also condition your pet to associate a certain piece of music with an emotional state. Whenever you play with your dog or cat, put one specific piece of music on the CD player and play it (gradually increase the volume over a period of time).
  • Classical music is great, because it tends to be quite long in duration. If you play the same piece of music when good things are happening in your pet’s life, they will quickly learn that that piece of music makes them feel happy. You can then play that music whenever fireworks or storms are going on. 

WHAT TO DO WHEN THERE’RE FIREWORKS / THUNDERSTORMS

1. An hour before those fireworks are about to start – feed your pets a large carbohydrate rich meal. This’ll help to make them feel sleepy and calm.  

2. Keep your pets indoors well before sunset and put the ‘mood music’ on.

3. Draw the curtains and play their favourite games with them before the fireworks start. Playing games helps to combat panic and anxiety – so keep them amused and in a good mood. 

4. As soon as the fireworks start, lead your pets to their safe space and sit with them.  

IT IS OK TO COMFORT YOUR PET!

There’s a lot of research that proves that ignoring your pet when they’re clearly terrified can actually make it worse!

Try to keep yourself calm and to jolly them along as much as you can without hiding under the bed with them. Understand that your pet thinks it’s the end of the world, and give them comfort if they are afraid.

If your dog is terrified of the loud noises, consider using a THUNDERSHIRT provided he doesn’t find it too overwhelming! Get your pet used the Thundershirt while calm. 

Don’t have a Thundershirt? You can put one of your t-shirts on your pet or if you are familiar with TTouch, apply a body wrap. Google is a useful source here for how to correctly put thundershirts / anxiety shirts / body wraps on your pets. But this doesn’t work for every dog or cat. If your pet freezes or cowers even more, the wrap may be too much, so rather take it off.

There are several remedies available to help pets through fireworks and storms. If you’re going to use something like ADAPTIL CALMING SPRAY, CALM-EZE (or any other medication) ALWAYS remember to check with your vet first, especially if your dog or cat is on any existing medication. Overdosing can kill your pet, and some medications cannot be mixed with others, even homeopathic remedies. Use any medication from your vet exactly as prescribed and don’t exceed the dosage under any circumstances. 
You can actually put earplugs in your pet’s ears, provided it’s the same kind used for babies and toddlers. Or you can make them yourself by using rolls of wrung out damp cotton wool. It’s very important to make sure that you don’t push them down too far into your pet’s ear canal.

Make sure you remove them and throw them away carefully afterwards. Set a reminder on your cell phone so you don’t forget! You can also put headphones on your dog if your dog is comfortable with them.  

CONCLUSION

If your pet needs professional help to overcome their fear of loud noises – please do seek help sooner rather than later.

The sooner it’s addressed, the better the chances of success. For assistance, please feel free to email us on info@coapesa.com

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