Firework season is here again, most of us can’t wait to get ourselves into fun and magnificent light shows. Unfortunatelly Christmas and New Year are always a challenge for the pet owners. Even though we can agree that in most of cases dog owners face bigger problems than cat owners does but the animals might face the same amount of stress eather it is a cat or a dog. While dogs are dependable and will come to look for help from their caretakers, cats will try to deal with the situation by themselves.
First we need to discuss the reasons behind the fearful behaviour of the cat towards the loud sound. As cat in the nature is a predetor and a prey at the same time, they developed certain behaviour which allowed them to be efficient in hunting and escaping. Fear serves as a survival mechanism. In order to avoid potentially stronger and faster animals cats developed a habbit of going to the opposite direction of the loud unfamiliar sounds. Another reason is that for animals it is a bit difficult to identify the source of the sound and light, after all, firework is a rocket science to them, and what they do not understand – they fear. Fireworks phobia might be also related to the similarity to thunderstorm, as it is only natural to hide in order to be safe. For some of the felines sound and light might be asociated to negaitve experience they might have had in the past, for example they were bred or kept in unsuitable enviroment by previous owners or they have experienced visual or sound stimulus while facing some of the other fearful situation or object, so they started to asociate it with possible threat.
Our cats were domesticated quite recently in comparison to other animals we keep around us. Over the domestication period cats didn’t need to rely on person to survive so they kept quite an independent relationship with us. This enables them to act on their own and ignore the presence of a caretaker in a face of danger. With that being said cat owners face a danger of being seriously scrached and bitten while trying to handle their pet in fearful situations. When the cat gets scared of a sudden sound or flash it will bolt for safety in a matter of seconds. Thanks to its agility and reflexes it is almost impossible to catch a cat and while in panic it might slip through the door or open window and hurt itself or get outside. Firework displays might last for a long time and the cat might become terrified and disoriented by the time it ends. No need to say that in that state it might get lost, stuck in places where it can’t get out or, even worse, end up under a car.
Cats are different from dogs, as they are more independent, they will not whine, bark or bother their masters in a way dogs do. Felines tend to show their fear in more subtile ways we might not even notice. You need to be attentive enough to know what is normal for your cat and what is not. One of the clearest signs of a scared cat is bolting through the house from one room to another or up and down the stairs in search of a place to hide. Most of the cats will indulge themselves in an excessive grooming or scraching as a way to calm themselves down. The most subtle way the cat deals witht the stress is staying totally still ignoring the usual enviroment. The last point is the hardest to notice as most of the caretakers would think that everything is ok with their pets. It is very important to notice these little signs, as in terror your cat might become unpredictable.
First of all you need to make sure whether your cat is or isn’t scared of the loud noises or unfamiliar visual stimulus. You can put some recording of the sound of fireworks on your computer or TV and gradually increase the sound while observing your pets reacting to it. If your cat is not comfortable with the recordings or gets tensed you can be almost sure that the real thing will be a scary experience for your pet. If your pet is on the sensitive side here are some points which might help it to survive the fire show:
- The best thing you can do is to keep your cat indoors through the night during the firework session. Make sure you close all the windows and lock the cat flop. One stray firework during the day time will not force your cat to panic, but the main event might seem like an air attack for your feline, it will not know which direction to run for safety which will result in terror and disorientation. Nevertheless, even if your cat seems to be fine with sounds, it would be wise to keep it indoors for the night in order to avoid injuries from falling debris or incorectly launched fireworks.
- Invest in proper ID and microchip for your pet. Make sure all the informations connected to microchip are up to date. In case your cat will manage to run out of the house or will get lost while in panic, you will have a bigger chance to be reunited with your beloved pet.
- Make your home safe and cat friendly. Even if you do not normally use cat litterbox indoors it would be a good idea to get one for these kind of scenarios when you need to lock up your cat for its own safety. Provide your pet with pleanty of water and food, scracher or a new toy that your cat would have something to do while at home. In order to make a distraction from the fireworks you can try to play with your cat or give it treats if it is not terrified.
- Provide your cat with a place to hide if it didn’t find one yet. The crate or a box with some soft and cosy material inside would work well as a shelter. Do not force your cat to stay there if it had some negative experiences with the crate (like vet visits) or if it doesn’t want to stay there. That might just trigger bigger fear of fireworks. If your pet feels safe in its shelter it is best to leave it in piece.
- In case your cat is not able to stay calm try bringing it to the room which is furthest from the sound source. Remember – do not attempt to keep your cat in your hands as it might result in a very bad scraches. Try to limit your contact to the minimum time you need to get your cat from one room to another. Even some of the tamest felines might turn into hissing and biting beasts while in panic. If your cat doesn’t allow you to take it, drop a towel or soft sweater over it, gently wrap it like this it would not be able to bite you and then bring it to the safe room.
- There are two types of cats: ones which will require you to stay with them and the ones which will try to get away from everything. If your cat is social and is calmer when you are around then it would be a good idea to stay with it, play or stroke while the cat is next to you to make it more distracted. If your cat falls in the second category try to help it by reducing the scary sound as much as possible: shut the blinds or curtains in the room, try playing some calm instrumental or nature sound music (do not blast it in attempt to drown the fireworks, play it on normal volume) or if you have a TV in the room set it on the usual program with a slightly higher volume, that will make your pet feel like all the situation is more normal.
- You can have a stash of natural herbal remedies for cats. Dry catnip stimulises your cat at first, but after comes the light feeling of drunkness and calmness. You can try giving it 15 minutes before the big show. Valerian has a similar effect, but instead of only calming down your pet it will cause it to sleep. That should work fine, just ask your vet for the correct dosage as it is quite strong. You might also buy a fresh catnip, which works like a sedative without the energetic fase, and cat will enjoy chewing on it for a longer time than on the dry ones.
- One of the most important point is for you to stay calm and act as normal as possible. Do not get upset, impatient or angry at your feline for being jumpy, running around the house or not getting out of its hiding spot. Always keep a calm voice, talk softly to your cat even if it seems that your pet is beyond of hearing it. Have patience, cat might not get out of its hiding spot for a long time, leave a bit of kibble and water next to the place where it is. Do not attempt to get your cat of its sanctuary as that might result in injuries for you and for the cat, also it might start to trust you less. Give it some time, it will show itself when it will think that it’s safe.
- Check your garden and yard for firewok debris before letting your pet out. Fireworks contain heavy metals (mercury, antimony, phosphorus and others) which give color effects, but are very poisonous. Also firework boxes can stay hot for a long period of time and if your cat licks or touch it, it might result in burns.
- One of the best ways to prevent a disaster during the firework season is to desensualise your cat before it. This takes time and unlike other suggestions before, will not work on the spot. In order to make your cat used to firework noise try playing recordings of it. At first play the sound on the low volume, during that time play with the cat or give it its favourite treats. After couple of sessions you can increase the sound while giving rewards to the cat for not freaking out. If your cat is still uncomfortable with the noise do not increase the difficulty, give as much time as it is necessary for your cat to adapt. Eventually your pet will learn to support or even like the sound and maybe next year you will be able to enjoy the light show together with purring companion on the lap.