How to help cats cope with fireworks (+ stay safe)
It's nearly firework season (I’m writing this just before Guy Fawkes or Bonfire night but for you it might be New Year, 4th of July, Diwali - there are a lot of firework seasons!) and today I want to give you my 13 tips for how to help your cat cope with fireworks and how to keep them safe.
Keep your cat safe during fireworks
It's really important to keep your cat safe during fireworks as the risk of injury is high should they get out.
I was actually on duty this time last year over the weekend when there were lots of fireworks going on. Unfortunately we had a stray cat admitted that had been hit on the road and suffered a broken pelvis. Now thankfully she did very well. She was also pregnant and she needed a c-section as a result of that fracture to her pelvis as the pelvic canal of become very narrow. She was a lovely cat and we managed to find a new home for her as well as her 2 kittens after her owner couldn’t be found.
While she did very well and had a happy ending, this story highlights to potential risk and the consequences could have been a lot more tragic. This highlights the risk to safety that fireworks can pose to cat. As well as physical risk, stress can also cause serious problems as I’ve written about before in my article on the signs of stress in cats.
How to help cats cope with fireworks
Prepare well in advance
Get your cat microchipped
Always keep your cat inside
Litter trays, food and water
Close the curtains (windows and doors)
Use background noise or music
Comfort them if they want it
Have a safe space for your cat
Use distracting toys and treats
Use pheromones, supplements and medication
Monitor, modify, maintain
Check your garden for anything that could injure your cat
My first step to keep them safe and to help them cope with fireworks is to plan well in advance.
There's no point in rushing around like a headless chicken once the fireworks are going off or just before they're about to start. Get your supplies in early, get your plan in place early and it will just make life much easier for you. You'll also be able to help your cat much better and much more effectively.
Get your cat microchipped
Sticking with the theme of early planning, my next tip is to actually get your cap microchipped. Now, there's a number of different reasons why you should get your cap microchipped, but a big one is that if they do get lost, if they escaped the house and don't come back in or they're outside during the fireworks, then the microchip will allow you to be reunited with your cat if they happen to be taken to a rescue center, a shelter or to a veterinary clinic.
A microchip will just help you get your cat back.
Also, if they do get injured, then it will allow the vet to get in touch with you straight away. This can make all the difference when it comes to treatment that's needed. This may very well be lifesaving.
This is important even for indoor cats because it only takes the door to be opened up a fraction, or window not to be closed. They panic and head out and then that's when bad things can happen.
Always keep your cat inside during fireworks
So the next thing to do is always keep your cat inside during fireworks. That way if they panic, if they run off, then they're not going to get into difficulty. They will be contained within the house. So always keep your cat inside.
This can mean programming your microchip cat flap to not let your cat out after a certain time period. And I've actually got an article about the benefits of having a microchip cat flap where I also give a long term review of my Sureflap cat door - SPOILER ALERT I definitely recommend them! (and you can find them on amazon here).
Keeping your cat inside can also just mean locking the flap in the morning so that when your cat next comes in they're not able to then get out again.
Just make sure that your cat is inside in the evening when fireworks are taking place and don't leave it until the last minute. There might be fireworks earlier than expected or your cat might stray a bit further afield so lock that cat flap in the early afternoon, if not the morning. Just to make sure that they definitely are inside.
Enough litter, food and water
Make sure you've got enough litter trays down and your cat has got plenty of water and food available. The general recommendation is that there should be one more litter tray, food bowl and water bowl than the number of cats in the house.
This is a general way to reduce stress, but it also means that when your cat is more stressed you are doing your best to reduce other common sources of stress. It also means that the chance of your cat having an accident outside the litter box will be reduced.
Close curtains (and doors and windows!)
The next way to help your cat cope with fireworks is to keep the curtains closed. It should also go without saying that all windows and doors absolutely should be closed and you want to be very careful when you're coming into the house that your cat doesn't escape.
Making sure curtains are closed will dull the noise of the fireworks. It's also going to reduce the flashes of the light. And this can actually be a big cause of stress as well, because the bangs of the fireworks are accompanied by flashes of light. That can cause your cat to be quite stressed as well whenever they see a light flash as they know a scary noise will follow.
To further deaden and mask in the firework noise you can play some background music. This can be having the radio or the TV on. It could be the dishwasher or some other form of background noise your cat is comfortable with. It might even be static from an un-tuned radio. Anything to help mask the noise that is still familiar to your cat.
Be a comfort
Step number seven is to comfort your cat and provide reassurance if they want it. They might come up to you and want to spend all night on your lap, which is absolutely fine.
But don't force it because some cats will prefer to be by themselves in a dark enclosed place. So don't rip them out from their hiding spot and force your comfort or attention on them. But if they want to be reassured then absolutely provide that to them.
Provide a safe hiding spot
Next, as you might have guessed, is to actually provide them with a safe place to go. Cats are very three dimensional in the space they like to occupy. They often like to go up to high areas and so that safe place might be on top of a wardrobe, it might be in a cupboard, it can be under the bed. It might just be having a covered bed for them like this one.
Allow them to have access to these areas. And if they choose to go there then definitely let them go. Don't disturb them, don't rip them out, just let them be. Withdrawing and hiding can be a cat’s way of internally coping with any stress.
Play and treat
Another trick to reduce cat stress during fireworks is to try and distract them from all the noise. Now this can be a little bit harder than dogs who are more food orientated and maybe more playful but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least try!
This could be playing with your cat using a fishing rod style toy or whatever their favorite game might be. It may instead be providing some really high value treats or something that you know your cat loves. Mixed it in with a chew toy or a treat ball to provide extra mental stimulation and distraction.
Pheromones, supplements + medication
Along-side all of these different management strategies to reduce your cats stress levels and keep them safe during fireworks can be the addition of medication, and these comes in lots of different forms.
The first one to try is generally recommended to be something called Feliway, or feline facial pheromone. This is a pheromone treatment that just helps your cat feel more at home. It reduces their stress levels. It's the same pheromone that is released when cats rub their cheek against objects (and people!) in the house. They're marking their home territory. Feliway can make a big difference during stress events and comes in a spray version as well as a plug-in diffuser that releases the pheromone into the room. Check out the options and prices on amazon here.
Next up are herbal supplements. These include products like Calmex, zylkene and rescue remedy which many people claim make a huge difference to their cats. They are not the be all and end all when it comes to reducing stress however and many also feel then don’t do much for their pet. Also, with any supplement you should consult your vet before giving them to your cat as some may be more appropriate than others for your individual puss.
Finally we've actually got veterinary pharmaceutical products. You obviously need to talk to your vet about these, and they're ideal for cats that really struggled to cope or that developing other signs related to their stress (something like stress cystitis).
Monitor, modify, maintain
This is a sentiment that applies to many different conditions. Monitor the effect of your management plan. In other words how well it helps your cat cope with fireworks.
Modify the plan if needed. If it's not working quite as well as you think it could then make some changes so that next time your cat is better able to cope with fireworks.
Once you find a strategy that works then maintain it. Keep doing it every time fireworks are due.
My next step is to never punish your cat. If they have an accident, if they scratch some furniture badly because they are really stressed just don’t actually punish them. This is because it's only going to make things worse. What they'll learn to do is actually associate fireworks with you being angry as, as well as having that fear of the fireworks themselves.
Check outside for dangers
My final tip is for the morning after. Once the fireworks are over, before you let your cat out, just make sure that there's nothing that's fallen into your garden that could harm or injure your cat in any way. It’s pretty unlikely but a quick scan takes no more than a couple of minutes (depending on how big your garden is!) and could help prevent injury.
I'd love to read your comments down below if you do anything that really helps your cat cope with fireworks. Also, if you try out any of these ideas let me know how your cat gets on with them and which ones made the most difference.
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