What to do when your pet is scared of thunder or fireworks.
As most pet-owners will know, dogs and cats are often scared of loud noises such as thunder or fireworks, and it can be hard to know how best to comfort them. A 2020 study into pet anxiety found that as many as 32% of dogs studied experience stress related to noise-sensitivity.
In the wild, a fear of thunder could help animals to react appropriately and find a safe spot to hide out, but for domesticated pets, it only causes problems.
As it’s the season of stormy weather and fireworks, our expert education officers share their advice on how to comfort your pets when it’s loud outside..
Create a safe space
Dogs, like many other animals can sense changes in the weather. Often dogs can appear worried or pace prior to thunder even beginning.
Prepare for bad weather or nearby firework celebrations by providing somewhere safe for them to relax, like a crate covered with thick blankets with an open door so they have the freedom to come and go. The blankets absorb some of the noise and help them feel a little more secure.
Some dogs might hide behind sofas or under the bed when they’re scared of loud noises, give them the space to do so and they will come back out in their own time.
Cats who are fearful of thunder and fireworks also appreciate having a small hiding spot in which to tuck themselves away. A cardboard box lined with their blankets can make a cosy hiding-hole for an anxious kitty.
You can also turn on the TV or radio to provide a distraction and drown out any scary outdoor sounds.
Try a thunder jacket
A thunder jacket, or thunder shirt is a piece of material that wraps tightly around your dog’s chest to provide a calming effect. Many dogs find this type of gentle pressure comforting and it can drastically calm an anxious pup.
If you don’t have a thunder jacket, you can use a scarf or a bandage to create your own anxiety wrap. Don’t leave a dog unattended while wearing a wrap and don’t leave a makeshift thunder wrap on your dog for too long as it may become irritating and uncomfortable for them.
While it’s difficult to know for certain when bad weather is going to arrive, do your best to keep an eye on weather predictions (and out of the window) and try to avoid walking your dog when thunder seems imminent. We suggest setting an alert on your phone to advise you of any weather changes if you can.
Keep your cat indoors during stormy weather or on fireworks night too as being caught outdoors with unfamiliar frightening noises could be an overwhelming and disorientating experience for even the hardiest of cats.
Keep doors and windows closed
Once you and your pets are all cosy and safe indoors, make sure to keep any doors and windows closed.
This will not only help to dampen loud noises from outside, but some animals might bolt in fear, so this keeps them safe and sound.
Secure collars and ID tags
More than anything, our Education Officer, Eilidh, stresses the importance of using secure leads and collars with up-to-date name tags and micro-chips.
Eilidh tells us: ‘I have been involved in multiple searches over the years for dogs who have bolted on their walks or from gardens due to sudden bangs and it is awful to think of them outside and terrified.’
It’s best to try and prevent any great escapes in the first place by keeping your pets indoors or on the lead, but if the worst did happen and they got away, an up-to-date micro-chip or ID tag will help to reunite you both.
Pets are very attuned to human emotions, you might have noticed them trying to comfort you when you’ve been sad. A scary thunderstorm or nearby fireworks mean that it’s your turn to act as a positive role model for them and stay calm and collected while they are afraid.
Talk to them as you normally would and try not to make any drastic changes to your behaviour. This will help them realise that there is nothing to fear.
Never ever punish pets for being afraid. This can intensify their fear and create even bigger problems for you both down the line.
Don’t leave your pets home alone if you can avoid it on fireworks night or during thundery weather. Scared animals often try to escape and can end up hurting themselves.
They might also come to you for comfort. If they are looking for a little reassurance, don’t ignore them but instead react calmly and give them cuddles and attention. They will thank you for it!
Keep your pet busy as you sit out the scary noises together. Why not try out a fun enrichment activity like playing with their favourite toys or even try some reward-based training to distract them.
However, if your pet is too scared to play, don’t force them. Give them the space they need to process their emotions in their own way.
Want to learn more?
For more advice on caring for or adopting cats and dogs, check out the other articles on our site. Or if you want to learn how to be prepared for a medical emergency, book on to one of our Dog First Aid courses today.