As we approach bonfire night, we must think about our pets’ safety.
The celebration of bonfire night dates back to the Gunpowder plot of 1605, when explosives expert Guy Fawkes was caught attempting to kill the King. Fawkes was part of a Catholic conspiracy to blow up the Protestant King James I of England (VI of Scotland) while he was attending Parliament.
Guy Fawkes was betrayed and caught red handed on the 5th November. Legend has it that fires were lit across the country to celebrate the survival of the King. Fawkes, meanwhile, was sentenced to death for treason by being hanged, drawn and quartered!
“Remember, remember the 5th of November.
Gunpowder, treason, and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason,
should ever be forgot!”
Since 1607, England and Scotland have celebrated Bonfire night by lighting bonfires and, more recently, setting off fireworks.
Fireworks are contentious amongst pet owners. While some pets are fine with fireworks, others can have a very adverse reaction and can be terrified of the noise. We have gathered some suggestions for you to keep your pet safe and as comfortable as possible during the night’s celebrations.
If you know your pet is scared of loud bangs (or you are unsure) it’s best to talk to your vet. In the extreme circumstances, some vets will prescribe a sedative to make your pet drowsy. This should ONLY be used with the prescription from a vet, please do not self-medicate your pet.
Feeding your pet a large meal that is high in carbohydrates can help to make them feel sleepier without recourse to a sedative. Discuss this with your vet prior to fireworks night to see which option they suggest.
Every year animals get scared during the firework season. Scared animals are prone to panic and may attempt to escape the noise and flashing lights by running away. Each year we see reports of dogs and other pets being scared and running away. To aid in reuniting lost dogs and their families it is a legal requirement for your dog to be microchipped; your dog should also have visible ID including a mobile number. It is also a good idea to chip and provide ID information for your cat as well; this will greatly increase the chance of lost pets being reunited with their owner.
Safety indoor pet safety
A good place to start with fireworks night pet safety, is to keep your pets indoors. While this may be easy for dog owners, cats can become restless. Provide a litter box for your cats and keep an eye on them to prevent any escape attempts.
Give your pets somewhere warm and dark to hide if they are very scared, a covered crate or a dark corner can help to settle them.
If your pet really is terrified, they may not be the only one who needs to stay in. Consider keeping your pet company throughout the night, but do not over coddle (or punish) as this will make them more anxious.
Try to play with your pets and keep them busy to take their mind off the noise. Some vets suggest ambient noise (such as the TV or radio) to distract them. Closing the curtains and windows to muffle the noise and keep out the flashes of light can help to keep your pet calm.
If your pet is particularly nervous, there are anxiety wraps you can buy (or make) that are a great natural help for nervous pups. If you need to walk your dog, try to walk him early while it is still light. There is little to no chance that fireworks will be going off during daylight hours and its less likely to scare him. If you will not be home in time to walk your dog before it gets dark, consider either missing that evening’s walk or allowing a professional dog walker to do the job.
Outdoor pet safety
Some pets will need to stay outdoors. You may not be able to move some pets such as outdoor rabbits, horses and some birds inside during the firework season. The British Horse Society recommends that you keep horses in their natural environment as much as possible. It is important to monitor them if you are not sure how they react to fireworks.
Looking after small animals on bonfire night
Small animals tend to be easier to care for than cats and dogs because they live enclosed in hutches or cages and therefore cannot run away. However, they may become frightened. Here are a few pointers to help them feel as secure as possible:
- Bring outdoor hutches into the house or, into a shed / garage.
- If this is not an option, turn the hutch around to face a wall or fence, instead of facing outwards.
- Cover hutches and aviaries with a blanket to muffle loud noises and block out flashes, but make sure there is enough ventilation.
- Provide extra hay or straw for burrowing, as this allows small animals to feel secure.
For rabbits and outdoor birds, there is a suggestion to turn hutches towards the wall and/or cover cages with blankets or towels to block out the flashes and muffle the sounds. Once again, this really depends on the temperament of your birds and rabbits, but it is worth considering.
While many people may not realise it, horses can be just as afraid of fireworks as dogs and cats. If your horses are scared, then it’s a good idea to tell your neighbours. If your neighbours are considering fireworks in their neighbouring fields, they may reconsider (or at least adjust where they plan to set them off) when they realise your horses are scared.
As a matter of safety, do NOT ride your horses while fireworks are going off. We suggest that you do not go near your horses while there are loud bangs such as fireworks. Horses can spook easily when there are loud noises or bright flashes. They are very large and powerful animals who many not be able to stop themselves kicking out at even the most beloved owner.
We suggest monitoring your horses, but from a safe distance. Consider WiFi enabled CCTV if you really are concerned.
Let us not forget about livestock and larger animals, if you live rurally.
- If you have a horse and livestock out in a field, check locally to see if there are going to be any firework displays in your area that may affect them.
- Where possible – tell the organisers of firework displays that horses are nearby and ask them to set off their fireworks in the opposite direction.
If you are having a firework display at home, please make sure you clear up after the display as firework debris and litter, as they can be harmful to animals.
A pile of leaves and wood is the perfect nesting place for hedgehogs. To avoid wildlife casualties, build your bonfire as close to the time it will be set alight as possible. In addition, really disturb the bonfire before to check for animals hiding before lighting.
Extra fireworks safety considerations
On the whole, most fireworks night pass without a problem for both pet and owner, but its a good idea to prepare in any case.
Have a clear fire escape plan in your house and make sure everyone knows what it is. It may sound heartless, but the fire service do say to leave your pets if you cannot safely grab them in the event of a fire. We always suggest following their advice and having the safety of yourself and your family be top priority.
The morning after fireworks night, it is a good idea to check for stray fireworks. This is especially important if you have horses or walk dogs in fields used for displays. Do not allow your pets to chew on discarded fireworks (dead or alive ones!).
A quick internet search brings up many results from the English animal welfare charity RSPCA that tries to raise awareness about the safe use of fireworks and the issues for animals the irresponsible use can cause. Over the past five years the RSPCA report that they have seen an increase of over 100 percent in the number of calls relating from animals and the harmful effect fireworks are having, from 255 in 2011 to 533 in 2017.
It’s not just in England that there are warnings on firework displays. The Scottish animal welfare charity SSPCA has been campaigning to raise awareness of the challenges that owners of pets and other animals face throughout the year, but especially in November, from fireworks.