With Bonfire night just around the corner we all know what this means: fireworks! Fireworks are potentially problematic for our feline friends because they are a completely alien concept to our cats and are also very loud and unpredictable.
Here are 10 tips to keep your cat calm and content during fireworks
- Keep your cats inside. Don’t leave your cats outdoors when it gets dark as they could become scared and run off. Make sure your cat is microchipped too, and that the details are correct, in case they do escape and run off. You can use tasty food to try and encourage them to come back inside (tinned tuna usually works really well for this) and then lock their cat flap and shut all windows. You can also block off cat flaps or cover them to muffle the sounds of bangs that can come through.
- Don't leave them on their own. Cats can become quite stressed with the sounds of fireworks so try to make sure that if you know fireworks are going to be happening very close to your house, you don’t go out and leave your cat at home on their own. Being at home with them to reassure them and keep them company is the best solution to this problem.
- Shut curtains or blinds to stop bright flashing coming in through the windows, as this can be very scary to a cat and can be unpredictable and overwhelming.
- You can play music to your cat which can help to distract them from noises outside and studies have shown that classical music can reduce stress levels in cats . There are now specially designed music tracks for cats which you can download or you can ask your smart speaker to play them. Just ask it to play “calming music for cats”
- Calming supplements and nutraceuticals can be really useful in helping to reduce stress in cats, however these are not to be confused with medications and therefore, although they can help, they will not be able to calm a severely stressed cat. You really need to provide supplements alongside other methods of calming your cat and not rely on just a supplement. Many supplements and nutraceuticals on the market also take a few days to a few weeks to work so you would need to have started these in advance. If you haven’t managed to get anything in place yet, contact your vet or pet shop and ask what supplements and nutraceuticals they have which are fast acting. There are some which are designed to work within a few hours and many vets stock these. Supplements containing Alpha Casozepine and L-tryptophan have studies that support their efficacy in stressed cats.
- Pheromone and herbal plug-ins can also be useful for this time of year. There are a few different plug-ins on the market now but the main ones use pheromones (Feliway) to help calm your cat. Again these need to be plugged in at least 24 hours before the event for your cat to receive the maximum benefit so if you haven’t got one plugged in yet, then make sure you get one in time for fireworks night! Also make sure to plug the plug in into the room which your cat spends the most time in.
- Create a den for your cat to hide in and feel safe. Sometimes cats feel the need to hide when they hear the sounds of fireworks and they will hide under a bed, in the back of a wardrobe or behind a sofa. If you can provide them with a nice safe area, covered with something (a cardboard box on its side filled with blankets works really well for this) and away from windows/cat flaps/ noisy areas then your cat can go and hide here and feel safe. You could also use a pheromone or herbal spray here and spray the den with this. Make sure to spray the spray before your cat goes into it and not whilst they’re in it. Cats really dislike being sprayed or the sounds of the spray so this could make them more stressed and then not want to be in the den.
- Play games with your cat and distract them. If you hear fireworks outside you could get your cats favourite toy and start playing a game with them. Make it really fun and exciting and try to really engage your cat with you so that they focus on you and forget about the noises outside. Using fishing rod type toys works really well for this and you could encourage your cat to chase and hunt a moving object rather than be worried about noises outside.
- Use puzzle feeders and enrichment games to give your cat something to do in the evening that uses their brain and keeps them occupied. Have a go at creating your own puzzle feeders using toilet roll tubes or boxes and hide treats inside. Put these down for your cat when it starts getting dark so that they have something to keep them occupied when the fireworks start!
- Medications can be used if your cat is severely affected by fireworks. Make sure to speak to your vet a few days in advance and book an appointment to discuss this with them. There are medications which vets can prescribe for cats with serious noise phobias so you will need to seek a vet's advice if you feel your cat's welfare is going to be seriously affected by the fireworks and that they would benefit from a prescription medication to help with this.
There are some signs to look out for which show your cat is stressed. These could be: hiding or becoming withdrawn, eating or drinking less, ears flat, pupils dilated, tail swishing, pacing, circling or restlessness and, in severe cases, open mouth breathing. It’s important to note that open mouth breathing is a serious sign that your cat is stressed and may be having trouble breathing. If this is the case they will need immediate veterinary attention.
If your cat is showing signs of a severe phobia of fireworks then it is advisable that you work with a feline behaviourist in time for next year's fireworks. Desensitisation to fireworks can take months of work so if your cat is very fearful and shows a severe reaction this year then make sure you get in contact with a behaviourist months before the next bonfire night. You can find a registered feline clinical animal behaviourist on the Animal Behaviour & Training Council website.
Contact Francesca Lees if you need advice on feline behaviour
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