Pets and fireworks: this is how you make it as peaceful as possible

Many owners of cats, dogs, and horses know how miserable New Year’s Eve can be. On one knee trying to reassure the cats under the couch. Skip the party so the frightened animals aren’t left alone. Or lock a monster away from sheer misery in a dark bathroom.

On the last day of the year, the necessary explosions will be heard, despite the stricter pyrotechnic rules. What can you do to guide an anxious pet into the New Year as calmly as possible? Norwegian Refugee Council I’ve talked about this with vets in recent years and seen along with behavioral training. From this, we distilled the most important insights for this guide, supplemented with advice from Claudia Fink and Machtilde van Derendonk, behavioral biologists at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Utrecht University.

1 What makes fireworks exciting for animals?

It is in the nature of animals to respond to loud noises, because there may be danger. Because of their good hearing, the sounds of fireworks come out much louder to dogs, cats, and horses than they do to us. Where we can also contextualize explosions and flashes of light, animals are taken by surprise and miss the realization that they too will end.

Behavioral biologist Claudia Fink says that about 60 percent of dogs and cats fear fireworks. Even a small percentage suffer long-term consequences. In her practice, Vinke sees animals who don’t dare go outside for months, sometimes even years, after an agonizing New Year’s Eve. It’s also a tough night for many horses. Machteld van Dierendonck, who specializes in equine behavior, does not dare to say how many suffer from fear, but “there is more to it than owners often think”.

2 Does one animal suffer more from fireworks than another?

At the end of 2017, the Dutch Association for the Protection of Animals commissioned a survey among animal owners. The results showed that cat owners in particular see signs of fear in their pets when fireworks are set off. More than 75 percent of cats are afraid of fireworks, according to the participants. In dogs it is about 64 percent, in rabbits it is about 44 percent.

Dog behavior trainer Nellie Puig explained earlier that breed and experience play a role in dogs Norwegian Refugee Council. Hounds, for example, are often not surprised by more or less fuss. A puppy who has been gradually accustomed to noise during the first three months of life is also less sensitive. In addition, past experiences determine how the animal reacts now. Has a cat ever run fearlessly down the street and had firecrackers exploding right next to it? Then it may well be that the animal then reacts more anxiously to loud noises. Differences can also be seen in horses, with one breed being “cooler” than the other.

3 Can you still walk your dog?

Sooner or later you have to believe it. Choosing a strategic outlet makes all the difference. “You can take long walks on the beach in the afternoon, or a walk through the woods, there are fewer fireworks there,” advises behavioral biologist Claudia Fink. An added bonus is that you can make the dog very tired in there. “When they sleep, they get a little.”

If you don’t have the option of taking your dog somewhere quiet, you can create a fun environment at home. Don’t force your dog to turn a corner if he doesn’t want to. Keep exhaust moments short and state them clearly. Vinke: “For example, count to ten and then go back inside. Then make up for the ‘suffering’ on the outside with toys and food when you come back inside.”

4 Is it smart to bring outside horses?

This depends on where you live. The advantage of meadows is that the horses can move around and thus relieve stress. If you live in a quiet area, where very few fireworks are set off, you may be able to leave the animals they are used to outside. In all other cases, it’s usually best to put them in a secure stable where they can see each other once it’s dark, says van derendonk. This will prevent the horses from running through the fence in a panic and ending up in the street. Van Dierendonck adds that it is important to bring in horses who are not used to being in the stable beforehand, so that they are aware of the situation.

If it’s quieter on the street after the end of the year, it’s a good idea for a horse to still be able to stretch its legs, says van derendonk. Stressed animals produce a lot of sugars to react quickly. Running or rolling in the field consumes the sugars and the effects of stress disappear.

5 Punisher, reward, reassurance: How do you behave as a landlord during New Year’s Eve?

As an owner, you influence your animal’s behavior. Three tips for making your pet feel familiar.

Pretend nothing is wrong

This applies to all kinds of animals. There is no point in punishing the fearful reaction. And too much rest is counterproductive. The trick is not to make drama out of it. Vinke advises ignoring the bangs and just doing what you normally do. “For example, watch TV with your dog.” Stroking and reassuring are allowed, but don’t pull a pet out from under the bed and refrain from heavy cuddling. “Being there as an owner and speaking up is enough support.” Cats often seek a safe place on their own. It’s nice to realize that this isn’t always the case with you as the landlord.

Dispersed your animal

He wrote that distraction is the best cure for a fear of pyrotechnics Norwegian Refugee Council Once. Play with a dog or cat to shift your focus or give them a chew stick. Although this often doesn’t make much sense with really scared animals. You can also postpone dinner or give it portions, so that the animal can focus on it. Van Dierendonck has another golden piece of advice for horse owners: “I give winter carrots right after midnight. They love it. It squeaks really well when eating and pushes other noises to the background.” In addition, the sound of other horses chewing has a calming effect.

Check your dog or cat’s microchip registration, just in case

Animal Protection Advice: Check if your dog or cat is newly registered. If your dog gets separated or your cat runs away, the home address is known. This is possible, for example, through this chip search engine.

6 How do you design the environment as accurately as possible?

For indoor animals: Turn on the radio or TV and close the blinds to block out the flashes of light. Pets also love a good hiding place. Its shape varies with different types of animals. Vinke recommends a crate with a blanket for the dog and a number of crates for the cat. When the time comes, the animal itself indicates where it feels most comfortable. Let her stay there and maybe make the place more comfortable with a rug.

Hanneke van Stee was previously advised by vet Hanneke van Stee Norwegian Refugee Council To lock scared cats in a small familiar room. For birds, a piece of cloth over the cage helps calm them down or keep them quiet.

Put rodents such as mice, rats, guinea pigs, and rabbits in a quiet place away from a window. You can put an outside cage. But Vinke warns that the difference in temperature can be too great for outdoor animals if you bring them indoors. If you don’t have a shed or garage, choose a place in the hall where it’s cooler than the living room.

In the horse stable, you can turn on the radio and turn on the light inside and out, so the contrast with the light flashes and bangs is much less. It’s also a good idea to let the animals get used to it. Horses can find support and peace together. Special earplugs are available for highly sensitive animals. Van Dierendonck: “Try this a few times before December 31st, until it feels more natural to your horse. You can also easily take them out of the ear with pantyhose around them.”

7 Do birth control pills help against the fear of fireworks?

Science Editor Wim Koehler sifted through the scientific literature a few years ago. The sedative dexmedetomidine calmed 72 percent of dogs in a good-to-excellent study. According to the vet Koehler spoke to, the drug works, but it’s more expensive than the pills he and his colleagues usually prescribe: alprazolam, a Valium-like drug.

Acepromazine is an anti-anxiety medication for dogs. It is known to relax muscles but it actually increases voice sensitivity and does not eliminate fear. Feelings of fear can actually be exacerbated if the animal cannot move. Anxiety-reducing nutritional supplements have been declared ineffective by the vet consulted.

According to Van Dierendonck, tranquilizers in horses can offer a solution in extreme cases. The effect of acepromazine on dogs has not been shown in horses. Van Dierendonck is keen on this, but he does not recommend against using the product to these animals in advance.

8 Do pheromones help scary pets?

In 2015, scientists investigated whether a collar that releases pheromones helps dogs with a fear of fireworks. It was a substance secreted by nursing mother dogs, giving the puppies a calm and familiar feel. There were a few things to criticize about the research, and the conclusions weren’t very hopeful: The band could have a “potential advantage” at home, according to the researchers.

Vinke also believes that pheromones—which you can also buy in a vaporizer and for cats—are not the holy grail. Whether it works for your dog or cat is a matter of trial and error. Van Dierendonck sees similar effects in horses when pheromone gel is smeared on the nasal mucosa. “It looks like you’re removing sharp edges.”

9 Are there areas free of fireworks?

Twelve municipalities, including Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Nijmegen, Haarlem and Apeldoorn, will have a complete ban on fireworks next year, while other cities have fireworks-free zones. They can be found on the website of the relevant municipalities. For pet owners who don’t live there, a holiday park without fireworks may be an alternative.

Read also: Fireworks are also afraid of birds. And this disorder lasts longer than that Only on New Year’s Eve.

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