For most people, fireworks are a symbol of celebration, but it isn’t surprising that they fill many dogs with anxiety and stress. According to the RSPCA, around 45% of dogs in the UK show signs of fear when they hear fireworks.
If your dog hides under the bed or becomes a quivering bundle of nerves during firework season, the good news is that there are lots of easy ways you can help your four-legged friend feel less frightened.
The characteristic loud bangs and bright lights of fireworks are a common source of fear for many pets, and this can cause them significant stress. While some signs of canine anxiety are obvious, such as trembling and barking, other signs are much more subtle and may be misinterpreted.
The most common clues that a dog is stressed include:
As fireworks are often enjoyed year-round for many events and celebrations it makes sense to make some changes ahead of time to help your dog cope better in the long term.
Ideally, your dog should always have access to a safe, quiet area to retreat to when he feels scared. This doggy den can be as simple as a cardboard box in a quiet room, the area behind the sofa, or as simple as his own padded igloo bed.
You just need to make this area appealing to your dog by leaving his favourite blankets and a selection of toys and chews there and regularly swap them to keep him interested. Most anxious dogs want to feel hidden, so a covered dog bed or a thick blanket over his dog crate can help if he wants to hide.
Pheromones are natural chemicals that animals use for communication. Calming pheromones have been shown to help dogs deal with a variety of anxiety-related behaviours. Adaptil, for example, produces a range of dog pheromone products including plug-in diffusers, sprays and collars that could be useful on nights with fireworks.
Natural and holistic remedies are becoming an increasingly popular way for owners to manage their dog’s anxiety and ailments. There is a wide range of natural canine anxiety supplements available on the market, with some formulated for long-term daily use while others are just to be given a few days before or on the day you expect the fireworks.
Supplements containing L-theanine and L-tryptophan, such as Zesty Paws Calming Bites and YuCalm dog, are commonly recommended by veterinarians to help with mild to moderate anxiety. Other options include Dorwest Valerian liquid drops which contain concentrated herbal extracts to naturally reduce anxiety in fearful situations, or Zylkene, which contains a milk protein derivative that has been shown to have calming properties in dogs.
Just make sure you check with your veterinarian before starting your dog on a new supplement, especially if he is already on medication or has any other health issues.
While there are many things you can do on the actual day of the fireworks to help your dog feel better, it doesn’t solve your dog’s phobia of loud noises. If your dog is really struggling with anxiety every firework season then it is time to deal with the problem directly.
Desensitisation therapy aims to make your dog less afraid of loud noises by listening to controlled sound recordings at an increasing volume in a safe place, over a period of weeks or months in severe cases.
The Dog’s Trust offers a free downloadable sound-based treatment programme called “Sounds Scary” which helps dogs deal with loud distressing noises such as fireworks.
On the days when you anticipate fireworks in your neighbourhood there are lots of helpful things you can do to help make your dog feel more comfortable and reduce his stress levels:
Do not leave your dog alone if he is feeling anxious as he may panic and injure himself. If your dog’s behaviour suddenly changes during fireworks, such as excessive barking or being destructive, it is most likely a sign of stress and not due to your dog “behaving badly”. It is important not to punish your dog if he is frightened, which can make things worse in the long term. Instead give him reassurance and attention.
Keep your dog indoors in a safe and secure area where he can’t escape. Some dogs can panic when they hear loud noises and injure themselves while trying to escape. Keep all doors and windows shut, move breakable objects out of harm’s way and make sure your dog has some blankets and cushions to snuggle up with.
While preventing an escape is better, making sure your dog is microchipped and the contact details are up-to-date will give you some peace of mind if he does manage to escape during firework season. Microchipped dogs that are lost are much more likely to be successfully reunited with their owners.
If you are still concerned about your dog being stressed when fireworks go off, then it is important to seek help from your veterinarian. Your vet will work with you to figure out what is best for your pet’s health and wellbeing, and what changes you can make to help your dog.
Depending on your dog’s signs they may refer you to a clinical animal behaviourist or prescribe medication to help reduce your dog’s anxiety alongside behavioural therapy. The ultimate goal of your pet not having a fearful response to fireworks is achievable but it takes time, patience, and a lot of love!
Comedian Simon Evans shares how he struggled to find the right dog for his family.
Could you be risking a £5,000 fine by not properly securing your dog in your van? Read our safety checklist.