How to Help Your Pets Sleep on Bonfire Night
8 min read
Last Modified 3 November 2023 First Added 2 October 2020
Pets are part of the family and as such, we all want to make sure they’re happy and healthy. When it comes to a good night’s sleep, this is just as important to your pet as it is for you. However, there are certain occasions and events that can disturb your pet’s rest. One of these is Bonfire Night.
In fact, a poll by Ceva Animal Health found that Bonfire Night is the most stressful night of the year for our furry friends. The poll found that the night causes anxiety in over 80% of cats and dogs. So for many pets, our night of excitement translates as a sleepless night full of fear and stress. Luckily, there are ways you can help to prepare your pet for bonfire night and ensure they sleep well.
As a Registered SQP for companion animals, I have put together some advice to help your furbabies stay safe on what is probably the scariest night of the year for them.
Although we can’t truly know why pets are scared of fireworks, we can make educated assumptions. For example, pets tend to have more sensitive hearing than us humans. A loud noise such as a firework is naturally scary for them. It also won’t help that they cannot make sense of the loud noise and flashing lights. They don’t know it’s Bonfire Night and therefore have no reason to expect fireworks.
When pets are scared, their fight-or-flight response is triggered. But when it comes to fireworks, there is nowhere to hide and nothing to fight. Your pet can’t control the situation, even when they are in the safety of their own home, so it’s no wonder Bonfire Night is highly stressful for pets.
Keeping your pet calm and safe on Bonfire Night will help them to get the rest they need. During the run-up to Bonfire Night, there are ways that you can prepare, so that you, your home, and your beloved pet are all ready for the fireworks. Preparations include:
You may not have time to fully desensitise your pet this year, as you ideally need a few months to do it. However, if your pet is stressed, you should try the following.
To desensitise your pet, you need to expose them to a recording of fireworks for a few months before the event. You should play the sounds quietly, to begin with for about 10 minutes whilst your pet is distracted (you can do this at feeding time, or distract them with a toy).
If your pet remains calm, next time turn up the volume. Gradually increase the volume each time your pet doesn’t get stressed by the noise. This may be a quick process for some animals, but for others, it can take a much longer time. Be patient and do not force anything by turning up the noise before your pet is ready.
Make sure you know when your local events are for Bonfire Night. This way you can make sure you have enough time to prepare your home for the fireworks. You’ll also know how long you’ll need to be around for your pet. Knowing when fireworks are likely to go off allows you to prep everything else in advance.
For cats and dogs, there are pheromone diffusers available that can help to calm your pet. Pheromones are chemicals that are released during certain situations. These diffusers mimic different calming pheromones. For example, Feliway Classic mimics “happy” pheromones that cats release when they rub their face on things. These pheromones give a comfortable, calming and reassuring message to your cat.
If you plan to use a pheromone diffuser, plug it in a week or so before the fireworks are due to start.
A few weeks before the fireworks are due to begin, make sure your home and routine are ready. You should ensure that your pet has plenty of hiding spaces, such as under the bed, behind the sofa or (for cats) on top of wardrobes. You can also set up a safe space. If you have a dog that is crate trained, use the crate. If not, fill a quiet room or corner with food, water bowls and toys. Let them go in and out of this area as they please and reward them when they use the area to create a positive association.
For outdoor rabbits and guinea pigs, you should consider moving them inside for a few weeks. Bring the hutch into a car-free garage or a shed if the house is a no-go. Rabbits are extremely sensitive, as they’re prey animals, so providing a solid barrier to the fireworks will help to keep them calm (and protect them from falling sparks if the displays are extremely close).
If you normally walk your dog in the evening, make sure you’ll be home before the fireworks start. To do this you may need to change your routine. Make this change gradually, going out slightly earlier each day as you come closer to Bonfire Night.
When Bonfire Night arrives it’s important that you’re around to help your pet get through the night.
Before any displays begin, draw any curtains and blinds, and close all windows and external doors. This will help to muffle the noise and shut out bright flashes. Closing windows and doors is important to ensure your pet can’t run off in fear.
Whether you have been able to bring in your outdoor rabbit or not, cover the hutch with blankets to muffle the sounds and block the light (though also ensure that there is still adequate ventilation). All animals should be given extra bedding to hide in too, this is especially important for small animals.
If you normally allow your cat to wander outside, make sure you bring them in early. You don’t want them pottering around scared in the dark.
Once all pets are in with plenty of bedding, turn on the radio, or TV, or play some music. Have this a little louder than normal to muffle the fireworks. It can also be a good idea to distract your pet with a treat. A stuffed toy or a hard chew can keep a dog occupied and distracted. For cats and rabbits, you can give them a treat ball filled with their favourite foods.
Every pet is different, but there are some signs you can look out for to see if your pet is stressed during Bonfire Night. The below lists are not all-encompassing but are a good place to start. Just remember, pets all have different personalities and so can show stress in different ways. As you know your pet best, keep an eye out for any unexplained changes in behaviour. But, in general, the signs that your pet is stressed are:
Your dog may show stress by:
Cats can show stress by:
Indoor or outdoor rabbits can also show stress. Signs of this include:
If you’ve noticed these signs in previous years, you should consider taking a proactive approach to calming and preparing your pet for this year’s Bonfire Night. It could even be worth talking to your vet if your pet finds this time of year extremely difficult.
Sometimes, no matter how prepared you are, your pet may still get scared of the loud noises and flashing lights that come with Bonfire Night. If this happens, don’t ever punish your pet for being scared, this will only make things worse. It’s also important that you stay calm and act normal.
Instead, follow your pet’s lead on what they want to comfort themselves. They may ignore the safe area you have created for them (this is fine), or they may go straight there to calm themselves. If your pet wants comfort, give it to them. Stroke them and talk gently, you can also try to distract them with a toy. However, try not to overdo it, you want to act as normal as possible.
Sleeping on Bonfire Night can be difficult for pets. But with a little preparation and forward-thinking, you can help to keep your pet calm and safe so they can get a good night’s sleep regardless. However, if your pet has a severe phobia, or won’t settle down despite all your efforts, seek advice from your vet.