New Year’s Eve – that delightful annual party in which we celebrate the year that was. But for your pet, December 31 can be a time of distress and terror. Loud fireworks pose a real threat, as many animals are can attempt to run away, jump fences, thrash if tied up and even jump through glass to escape the terrifying sounds of the sky.
Luckily, responsible pet owners can help make fireworks far less scary for their fluffballs. Before heading out this New Year’s Eve, consider our top tips for ensuring your loyal companion has a fun night, too.
Heading out without your fur child?
If a cranking party is calling for your all-night attendance, or even if you’re just sharing a quiet brew with your favourite neighbour, here’s what you can do to help Fido feel safer before you head out the door.
- Exercise and feed your pet before you leave: a tired, full-bellied animal is less of a flight risk than a hungry, hyper one.
- Ensure your animal isn’t tethered: animals and dogs especially, can choke themselves on a collar or lead during times of distress. Steer clear of choke collars always.
- Create a comfortable, safe nest: close the blinds and put some music on to provide your pet with a sanctuary to distract and escape to.
- Make your pet identifiable: ensure your lovable beast’s name tag and microchip are visible and up-to-date to assure them the best chance of being returned home safely, should they escape.
- Consider finding a babysitter or boarding house: if you can’t supervise your pet, consider finding alternative accommodation for the night so they are not left alone.
Staying in and sharing a 12am cuddle with your lucky pet?
If bunking down on the couch with a great movie or five is more your style, you can follow these tips to ensure you lessen rather than heighten your pet’s anxiety come midnight.
- Avoid excessive fussing during times of distress: it’s best to distract your pup with engaging activities and games. Always reward them for calm behaviour.
- Keep your pet inside: cats, rabbits and guinea pigs especially should be kept indoors during fireworks. It gives them the chance to safely burrow down and wait it out.
- Distract, distract, distract: come prepared with toys or activities to stimulate their brains. Kongs are always a ‘pawsome’ idea.
- Maintain your composure: should your little babe become anxious, keep your voice, body language and behaviour normal. Animals can sense changes to your normal patterns and this can increase their anxiety.
Severe case of the firework frights?
If your pet quakes in fear at even the hint of loud noises, training is the answer to your woes. RSPCA South Australia animal behaviourist Kim Nicolle recommends exposing your pet to loud noises and even videos of fireworks well before the main event to help desensitise and prevent any distress or self-harm.
To get started, try downloading the Sound Proof Puppy Training app. “Start with a sound on the lowest volume and help your puppy or dog make positive associations. This means pairing the sound with something highly enjoyable, like a stuffed kong or chew treat,” Kim says. Slowly increase the volume of the app, but take it slow – any signs of distress and its likely you’re advancing too quickly.
Another useful coping mechanism for dogs is a ThunderShirt, a specially designed coat that applies a gentle, constant pressure to your dog’s torso, helping to calm them if they are anxious, fearful or overexcited. “It’s similar to how swaddling a baby can help relieve distress,” Kim says.
What if none of that works?
If all else fails and your much-loved pet is still exhibiting highly distressed behaviours, talk to your vet. While exploring medication options can feel daunting, your vet can prescribe medicine to be used on an as-needed basis, taken before the trigger event. “This will help to lower their anxiety level and enable their brain to function more logically,” Kim says.
With medication, the intention is not to sedate, but to support regular brain function, avoid your dog running on fear and making impulsive, dangerous decisions. That said, medication should still be the last port of call, as most animals can be trained out of their fireworks fear with time and patience.
This year, make sure your little firecracker is safe and contented to avoid a frenzied firework freak out – it’s the only way to ring in the New Year.