Halloween is almost upon us. The shops are full of Halloween decorations and people are preparing for what has become quite a big party night. It also won’t be long before there’ll be the sound of fireworks being let off late into the night and, when that happens, you can hear dogs barking right across the village. Pet anxiety can be a big problem for some pet owners at this time of year – and for the rest of us too!
I can’t understand why fireworks are still available for sale to the public given the risks to health and safety, particularly to our children and animals.
Then there’s the upset our pets may feel at the increased noise and intrusion into their normally peaceful routines. Animals have very acute hearing and loud noises can cause them real distress. The possible disturbance of trick or treaters ringing the doorbell may set pets howling or running for cover.
As Kennel Club Secretary, Caroline Kisko says, “dogs can react very badly to the unfamiliar sights and sounds that are common around Halloween and Bonfire Night. Fireworks, people in costumes knocking on the door, flashes of light and other things that dogs would not normally experience can be terrifying for dogs and could result in them behaving unpredictably which could put their safety, or the safety of people, at risk.”
Whilst we have to put up with it – and the late night explosions seem to start earlier every year, here are some things you can do to keep your pets calm and minimise pet anxiety, especially on the nights of these celebrations.
If you have a dog, you can spot the signs of stress by looking out for the following:-
Cats will exhibit anxiety by showing aggression (hissing, spitting, scratching), hiding, trembling or cowering, meowing or refusing to use their litter box. You should also look out for excessive grooming or your pet following you everywhere.
In the days when we had Samson, my beloved old black and white moggie, we always made sure he was kept indoors and that the curtains were drawn. It was a little easier for us because Samson was an indoor cat anyway and it’s obviously more difficult if your cat wants to go out for a loo break!
Some pets experience separation anxiety if left alone and during a disturbance an anxious dog can be quite disruptive and show other behaviour problems such as chewing or biting. Good pet parents will know whether their pet will need company or whether they can be safely left alone in their basket or favourite spot.
Walking your dog is obviously important for pet health and you don’t want your pooch to miss out on vital exercise. For dogs, the simple solution is to walk them a little earlier in the day so that they can be safely indoors when the banging and flashing starts, or when people in scary costumes start turning up.
The Kennel Club advises dog owners to walk their dog before trick or treaters start their rounds and keep a firm grip on the lead as many dogs are frightened by people in costumes and could potentially react aggressively through fear.
A special chew, puzzle toys or some extra kitty biscuits might go some way to taking their mind off the din. Obviously, you don’t want to feed your dog any chocolate from the Halloween sweet stash. You might also need to keep pets’ water bowls topped up as dogs, in particular, will drink more through the extra panting that results from being scared.
You could also try distracting your pets with new toys or long-lasting chews.
Just like us, our pets can be soothed by music. Research has shown the dogs seem to prefer the sounds of soft rock or reggae to jazz, pop, or Motown. Classical music can be extremely calming too.
Otherwise, keep a radio or TV switched on to cover the sound of any sudden bangs and draw the curtains to minimise the lights from nearby fireworks.
If you are having people around which will add to the noise and stress for your pet, you could bed them down in a separate room away from the hubbub. The staff at Battersea Cats & Dogs Home suggest this could be something simple like a blanket draped over a table and to set this up so that your pet has a chance to get used to it before it needs to be used.
The Kennel Club suggests that, in the run-up to Bonfire Night or any other occasion when there will be fireworks, such as New Year’s Eve, you could try playing a sound CD with firework noises or firework sound videos on Youtube at a low level to let your dog get used to the sound in the background.
Close the curtains and turn the television or radio up and try to behave as normally as possible to encourage your pet to do the same. Don’t shout at your pet or tell them off – it’s not their fault they’re scared.
Pets can pick up subtle changes in your voice and body language so make sure you don’t pass their anxiety to them.
If they run off you’ll have a far better chance of getting them back again if they have been micro-chipped and are wearing an ID tag.
Check that your pets can’t escape from your garden if you have one. Fixing that broken fence before the festivities start might be a good idea just in case your pet makes a break for it.
Ask your neighbours if they are planning any parties or firework displays of their own. That way at least you’ll be prepared and could even relocate to somewhere quieter for the evening.
There are calming sprays and plug-ins that might help and it’s always worth asking your vet for some advice on how to calm an anxious dog or cat. You may be referred to a veterinary behaviourist or dog trainer. Your dog may also be prescribed dog anxiety medication if appropriate.
With a little preparation, you may be able to make Halloween and Bonfire Night less of an ordeal for your pets.
Do you have any tips for helping to keep pets calm and minimising pet anxiety?