How to help dogs with fireworks
Pets and bonfire night don’t mix. The days leading up to it can be hugely stressful for all pets. Dogs, in particular, are often badly affected by fireworks. Some get so scared they run off, and every year our emergency vets see hundreds of pets who have been involved in road traffic accidents after being spooked by loud bangs. Thousands more need medication for stress and dog anxiety attacks.
If your dog is distressed because of fireworks it’s possible they’ll pace up and down and pant heavily. They may also bark more than normal, tremble, hide or drool. Other signs of distress include destructiveness and soiling unexpectedly.
Dog owners can help their pets by ensuring they’re as relaxed and as comfortable as possible while fireworks are going off. In this article, we list the dos and don’ts for dog owners on bonfire night.
What to do when your dog is scared of fireworks
If your dog is afraid of the loud noises caused by fireworks, you should:
- keep your dog indoors with windows and doors securely closed
- leave internal doors open so they don’t feel trapped
- try to soundproof your house, such as drawing curtains
- provide background “white noise” such as the TV, radio or other music — it’s wise to start this in advance of the fireworks starting
- ensure your dog has access to a place where he can go and settle if he’s distressed — this may be his usual bed but you can also offer an alternative such as a blanket under a table with some of your old clothes as this will provide somewhere to hide and will be a comfort to your pet
- take your dog for his usual walk before the fireworks are set off and ensure he’s kept on a lead at all times, especially if you’re in any doubt about whether the noise of a firework may cause him to bolt
- feed him a good meal well before the fireworks are due to start
- Provide your dog with nutritious treats while the fireworks are going off as this may distract him and help to settle him down
- ensure your pet is wearing ID so that if he does run away there’s a greater chance of him being returned to you
- ensure your dog is microchipped and wears a collar and tag — these are both legal requirements
- praise your pet as this will help reassure him
- comfort your pet if he is acting scared
What not to do when your dog is scared of fireworks
- take your dog to a fireworks display or walk your dog while fireworks are being set off, as this will often cause distress — remember your dog doesn’t have to be showing obvious signs such as shaking or whimpering to be distressed
- tie your dog up outside if fireworks are being set off
- let your dog off the lead near a fireworks display
- leave your dog alone if he’s distressed — just like us, our pets seek comfort in numbers, so your presence will help reassure him
- shout at your dog if he’s destructive as a result of distress — this will only upset him more
When to seek veterinary advice
If you’re really concerned over the level of anxiety being displayed by your dog, it’s worth chatting with your vet to see what options are available. There are medications that can be given to dogs to help with anxiety, although these are generally only prescribed as a last resort. You may also want to rule out other conditions that might be causing their behaviour, such as poisoning, brain or thyroid disease.
The law and fireworks
It’s illegal to buy “adult” fireworks if you’re under 18, set off fireworks between 11pm and 7am, except on bonfire night, when the cut off is midnight, and New Year’s Eve, Diwali and Chinese New Year, when the cut off is 1am. It’s also against the law to set off or throw fireworks, including sparklers, in the street or other public places.
When are fireworks on sale?
You can only buy fireworks, including sparklers, from registered sellers for private use between October 15 and November 10, December 26 and 31, and three days before Diwali and Chinese New Year.
At all other times, you can only buy fireworks from licensed shops. Check with your council to find out about any local rules for setting off fireworks and remember, you can be fined up to £5,000 and imprisoned for up to six months for selling or using fireworks illegally. You could also get an on-the-spot fine of £90.
If your dog becomes afraid during fireworks and ends up hurting themselves, make sure to contact your vet immediately. If it is out-of-hours and your vet is closed, find your nearest emergency vet.