How to help pets cope with fireworks and thunder

Do loud, scary noises send your fur baby into a frenzy? Here are some ways to help keep your pets calm this festive season.

While fireworks may be all part of the silly season shenanigans for us, many pets don’t find them quite as much fun.

Many of our fur babies are scared of loud noises.

And with more storms on the horizon thanks to La Nina, this festive season could be especially terrifying for your four-legged family member.

If you’re the owner of a fearful Fido or panicky puss, these simple techniques will help them relax during all the ruckus.

Why pets are scared of loud noises

If your pooch is petrified of things that go bang in the night, they’re not alone.

A 2019 study found 52 per cent of dogs were frightened by fireworks, with 12 per cent of fearful dogs taking three days to a week to fully recover.

Part of the reason they get so scared is noise sensitivity.

Dogs can hear sound as far as 1km away, while cats have the broadest hearing range of any mammal.

Animal ecologist Dr Joy Tripovich from the University of New South Wales says fear is a survival instinct.

“If you’re out in the wild, you could get struck by lightning, caught in a flash flood or hit by a falling tree,” she says.

But while fear is a natural response, long-term stress can be dangerous for pets.

“It can lead to conditions such as skin infections, stomach upsets and can ultimately shorten an animal’s life,” Dr Tripovich says.

Signs your pet is feeling anxious

Dogs express fear by panting, pacing, whining, drooling, hiding, becoming destructive, or they may try to run away.

A cat stressed by noise may hide, show a displacement activity such as excessively licking themselves, or curling up in a tight ball.

How to keep your pet secure

Because pets often try to run during storms and fireworks, it’s important to check your yard for potential hazards and escape routes.

Suzana Talevski from Melbourne’s Lost Dogs’ Home says the number of pets arriving at the shelter always increases after extreme weather.

“Always identify your pet with a microchip and collar tag and keep your contact details up to date,” she says.

Help your pet feel safe

Other good ideas to help keep your pet calm during loud noises are:

  • Create a secure hiding space indoors with bedding and treats.
  • Drown out the trigger noise with calming music.
  • Close the curtains.

“Stay at home and keep them inside with you in a safe and calm environment or organise a trusted pet sitter or accommodation,” Suzana says.

Birds, rabbits and guinea pigs may also become anxious, so bring their cage inside, if possible, and cover with a sheet or towel.

Other tips to help pets cope with fireworks

Tire out your pet: When a storm is forecast or fireworks are likely, give your pooch extra exercise to tire them out, suggests Dr Tripovich.

“Tiring a dog out mentally and physically could lead to a calmer dog,” she says.

Lead by example: Animals take their emotional cues from us, so remain calm and reassuring during loud noises.

“Help alleviate their stress by not responding to the loud noises in a fearful manner,” Dr Tripovich advises.

Desensitise your pet: Try to desensitise your four-legged friend to loud noises by playing thunder and firework sounds at other times, while they enjoy a treat or game.

“Desensitisation can be a way of reassuring your pet that nothing bad is going to happen to them when they hear this sound,” Dr Tripovich says.

Seek help from an expert: If all else fails, Dr Tripovich recommends visiting your vet.

“There are a number of other measures that the vet might suggest; for example, pheromones, anti-anxiety medication or thunderstorm jackets,” she says.

Written by Dimity Barber.