With firework season approaching, I decided to write a blog with some hints and tips on how you can help your cats in the home to cope with the loud noises. Firework season can be very stressful for cats and there are quite a few changes we can make around the home to help them deal with these stressful situations.
Whilst peak activity of fireworks is generally around late October (Halloween) to mid-November (bonfire night), we are seeing increasing levels of activities with people starting displays much earlier. As a pet owner you may not be having home firework displays but your neighbours may decide to do so; it is always a good idea to speak to your neighbours in advance to see if they plan to have displays in their garden. This way you can plan ahead to help your feline friend.
A cat’s instinctive response to a loud unexpected noise is to bolt for safety for somewhere to hide until the danger has passed. Unfortunately this could be in any direction, including into the road. It is advisable if you have an outdoor cat that is fearful of fireworks, to keep him or her indoors at night time in firework season. This is for your cat’s safety and to prevent him or her from bolting into immediate danger.
Cats feel safest in a small area where they can hide away from danger and cope by themselves. We must remember that each cat has its own personality and whilst some may benefit from being comforted by their owner, most will benefit more from being left to their own devices to hide and cope.
So how can you help?
It is important to allow your cat to have free roam of the house where it can choose its own hiding place. Trapping cats in a room is not recommended as they can injure themselves trying to escape.
You can help by making little dens for your cat, this can be something as simple as a cardboard box on its side, lined with blankets and covered with a towel, with a favourite toy or treat inside. In a multi-cat household ensure there are at least two hides per cat; this will minimise the feeling of there not being enough resources, which will further stress your feline friend. Hides should be spaced out around the house so the cat can choose where to go where he/she feels the safest. (Ensure the same applies to litter trays when keeping cats indoors that are normally used to toileting outside). Cats prefer to hide high up where they feel the safest so if your living arrangements allow, place hides at different levels or on high shelves. Your cat may decide to ignore the hides and may feel safest on top of a cupboard or under the bed. Do not discourage this behaviour as this will incur further stress. Allow your cat to come and go to these safe places as he/she wishes and do not pull out or grab from these ‘safe places.’ It is important your cat has a place to go to where he/she can be left undisturbed and emerge when he/she wants to. It is important to remember that cats are good at squeezing into tight spaces so block off anywhere in the house that is unsafe (such as behind electrical cupboards).
Spraying pheromone sprays onto bedding, blankets and towels will help to appease your cat. These work by enhancing production of Gamma-aminobutyric acid; (GABA) a natural chemical produced by the brain, transmitted from nerve to nerve as a calming message when the body is stressed. A favourite of mine is Pet Remedy, which comes as a spray, muzzle wipes and plug in diffusers. It is important to note that when using plug in diffusers, they should be switched on continuously and be plugged in ahead of the stressful situation so the pheromone has time to diffuse into the air. They should be plugged in where the cats spends the most time. In a multi-cat household you will need to use more than one (e.g. one upstairs and one downstairs). Sprays onto bedding will last for 2-6 hours depending on each individual pet.
When it becomes dark outside ensure the curtains and windows are kept shut; it is not only the noise of fireworks that frightens cats but also the flashes. Turning the radio up loud (or a television) to muffle out noise is recommended, especially if you are not at home. Classical music can be particularly calming to animals in a stressful situation.
Some cats may prefer to come to their owner for cuddles and reassurance. It is important to act normal around your cat; cats are very sensitive to changes and if they sense you acting strange or fussing them more or being overly affectionate this can further increase stress. If your cat comes to you for cuddles, remain calm and give cuddles as you usually would. Avoid picking up your cat when it is stressed (as this could provoke aggression) and let your cat do what it chooses. Cats can take a long time to calm down from a stressful situation so letting them do their own thing will minimise stress.
It is very important to note that cats are sensitive to changes and therefore I advise making these changes slowly and in advance. Gradually introducing one to two hides at a time ahead of firework season will be far less stressful. It will also allow your cat to explore and find out where he/she feels the safest BEFORE any stressful situation occurs.
Lastly but by far not least it is important to take this opportunity to ensure your cat is microchipped and the details are up to date in the case of an escapee during firework season.
You can find more information on cat behaviour at https://icatcare.org/advice/cat-behaviour