It is that time of year when fireworks begin to be let off, unfortunately they are not just lighting up our skies and creating noise for one night or weekend a year and can start 2 – 3 weeks before Bonfire Night, so planning to help your cats cope during this time needs to be started earlier and earlier and continue for a longer period.
So how can we help cats cope with fireworks?
Start preparing early - the beginning to middle of October will really help.
What can you do?
· Introduce extra hiding and safe places – you do not need to spend money you can use empty cardboard boxes, drape blankets over chairs or leave wardrobe doors slightly open. If you do not leave their carrier out already and it has a removable door take it off place a blanket inside and place a blanket over the top. If your cat heads upwards for their safe place start thinking of ways you can introduce other places they may feel safe in e.g. place a box or covered carrier on top of draws or bookcases (please ensure the new hiding place is secure and doesn’t wobble when the cat jumps up).
· Introduce plug -ins or use sprays that aid calming whether a pheromone based one like Feliway Classic or a herbal version like Pet Remedy. Place the plug ins in locations they are known to hide and use as their safe place for resting. Use sprays on bedding (please test before applying to surfaces you are concerned about to ensure doesn’t damage them). Remember that Feliway needs to be sprayed on a item 20 minutes before introducing it to your cat as the smell of the liquid used to carry the pheromone scent overpowers it initially and cats are not keen on the smell.
· Place small amounts of food in the new safe place locations you have created so they search them out and then also do this on the day’s fireworks are being let off, try to do it beforehand so that you do not disturb them once the fireworks start.
· Do not disturb or seek your cat out if they have hidden, just act normal and leave them to it. Some cats will seek you out for comfort but don’t go to them let them come to you.
· White noise can help cats and could help drown out the sound of the fireworks, avoid playing nature sounds as the sounds of birds could cause them frustration when they can not see or find them. Examples of white nose could be a water fountain or sound of waves. There are downloads and CDs you can purchase specifically designed for cats.
· Close windows and curtains to help reduce sound.
· If they have unrestricted access to a catio, secure garden or the outside slowly introduce a restriction and increase the time they are restricted access over a few weeks to get them used to being indoors only during the night. Some microchip cat flaps allow you to set times for when the flap prevents cats going outside which can be very helpful. If you are worried about getting home after dark and the possibility fireworks will be going off before you return then longer restrictions maybe needed or speak with neighbours, family or friends and see if anyone could help you out by popping in to lock the cat preventing them going out but allowing them back in.
· Start to introduce or increase number of litter trays in the run up ideal number is 1 litter tray per cat plus 1 extra. If they are not used to litter trays consider using soil in them to encourage them to use the litter trays. Locate the trays in quieter areas away from through fares like hall ways and away from food and water locations.
Tips to help those not used to completely indoor life or one with restrictions this include cats who have free access to a catio as this sudden restriction of that area can cause stress. Some cats struggle more than others, the following tips are useful for all cats and can be used year-round for any indoor or restricted access cat.
· Introduce puzzled feeders there are various ones available on the market or you could create your own using empty toilet rolls and boxes. Check out our blog Puzzle Feeders Helping Cats in Different Ways for more information. https://www.shropshirecatrescue.org.uk/post/puzzle-feeders-helping-cats-in-different-ways
· Introduce scent boxes – these are boxes that you can use to bring in outdoor smells into the home collect fallen items within your garden including feathers, sticks, leaves (autumn is the perfect time to collect fallen leaves). Let them explore and smell the items you bring in, of course feathers, sticks and leaves may then be played with too. You can walk around your garden and areas you know they spend outside and let them smell your shoes when you come back in.
· Bring items from outside inside from a catio e.g. if they have a scratch posts in there bring it in so they still have access.
· Introduce extra play sessions – avoid doing this during the fireworks but maybe after the cat flap is initially locked. However old a cat is play is still important for them and being inside more means they loose the chance to pounce and play with objects outside. Very often you see cats pouncing on leaves or launching to try and catch a fly.
Speak with your cats veterinary practice as they can advise on calming supplements that you can give to your cat and ensure that they are suitable for your cat. Some supplements may need to be given a few weeks before hand to be fully effective where others can be given on the day. Your vet will guide you to what is available and suitable for your cat.
Helping cats who live completely outdoors
Restricting outdoor access is not possible for these cats but they can still be helped.
· Provide weatherproof hides/kennels close to areas they tend to be found resting.
· If an undercover area like a barn or shed can be left open or made accessible for the cat’s place boxes to act as hides and provide food and water within the location but spread out.
· Spraying Feliway classic or Pet Remedy on blankets placed in the area or in hides can really help.
· If it is safe and electricity is accessible setting up something to play white noise could be beneficial.
· Avoid locking them in somewhere unless they are used to being locked in as otherwise they could experience more stress by being unable to escape to a location they feel is safe in.