Pet expert shares common signs of fear to look out for in pets

Fireworks: How to keep your dog relaxed on bonfire night

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Dr Karlien Heyrman, Head of Pets at Pets at Home, has offered her best advice on how to look after your pet on New Year’s Eve as fireworks light up Britain’s skies. She said: “New Year’s Eve can be a really uneasy time for our pets, leaving them feeling stressed and anxious – especially those who are naturally more nervous.”

Dr Karlien added: “It’s never nice to see your pet upset but thankfully there are some easy steps you can take – in advance and on the night – to help keep them relaxed.

“It’s also important for you, as an owner, to remain calm and to not soothe them too much as pets can sense any changes in our behaviour which can make them feel more anxious.”

Dr Karlien went on to say that it is essential to be aware of your pet’s anxiety signs.

She explained: “All pets are different and it’s important that you’re able to recognise what anxiety looks like for yours.

“Common signs of fear to look out for include pacing and panting in dogs, hiding and hissing in cats, and stamping or a change of appetite in rabbits.

“For most pets, a fearful state usually starts with a watchful phase where they will be unusually alert.

“If you spot your pet acting this way, it’s best to wait until they’ve started to calm down before you give them affection or distract them with a game. There’s the risk that you could be accidentally rewarding them for being scared if you step in too soon.”

One handy tip, according to Dr Karlien, is to create a quiet and safe space for your pet. She said: “One of the best things you can do to ease your pet’s anxiety is to make sure they have a quiet space away from the loud bangs and bright lights.

“Create their haven in advance of firework season by using familiar toys and lots of bedding for them to burrow in, including a piece of clothing with your scent so that they’re comforted by the smell.

“You can then use treats and rewards to build positive associations with the area so it’s somewhere they feel happy and safe. It’s also best to leave some treats there for them to chew on.”

There are ways to try and muffle the sounds of fireworks, as well as hide the lights as best as you can, such as keeping windows, blinds, and curtains closed.

Dr Karlien continued: “You can also try turning on the TV or playing rhythmic music moderately loud using Pets at Home’s Spotify playlists, which has a range of genres to choose from.

“For rabbits and guinea pigs, it’s best to not bring them inside if they’re not used to it – this could make them more anxious.

“You should provide them with lots of bedding to hide in and partly cover the hutch in blankets to help muffle the noise. Both pets are sociable animals so should live in pairs or groups of their own kind to be happy, healthy and feel safe in the long-term.”

There are also pet calming products that pet owners can try out. Dr Karlien said: “While treats and toys may be enough to distract and calm some pets, for more anxious dogs cats, and small animals you may have to explore alternative methods such as anti-anxiety products.

“These should ideally be introduced at least two weeks before New Year’s Eve to allow your pet the chance to get used to them.

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“Thundershirts are anxiety jackets that apply mild but constant pressure to soothe distressed pets in a non-intrusive way. It’s best to introduce your pet to these by wearing them for short intervals at a time in the run up to New Year’s Eve.”

Dr Karlien’s last piece of advice was to create positive associations for your pet. She said: “It’s possible to help your pet change their behaviour and reduce their fear of loud noises but this takes time – often up to a few months ahead of New Year’s Eve.

“You can use recordings to gradually expose your cat or dog to very low levels of noise that scares them, slowly increasing the volume as they adjust.

“This allows you to create positive associations by using treats and games to reward them while the sounds are playing.

“Eventually, your pet will begin to associate the noises with tasty treats and playtime, instead of something they should be scared of.”

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