Caring for your pets during fireworks displays

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The holiday season often means fireworks displays ‚Äì but sadly, fireworks can be very stressful for pets and other animals. If you are aware of a planned fireworks display near you, here‚Äôs how you can help care for your pets and keep them as safe and happy as possible. 
What are the dangers of fireworks? 
Many animals are terrified by fireworks displays, and this often causes them to take flight and try to escape the loud noises. Dogs and horses in particular often try and run away when frightened by fireworks, and may injure themselves. Dogs have been known to jump through plate glass windows, easily jump over or dig under fences that would normally contain them, and sometimes end up several kilometres from home. 
Planning ahead is crucial! New Year’s Eve fireworks are to be expected, but check your local council or state or territory government website to find out if there are other fireworks events (for example, some states have fireworks on New Year’s Day or Australia Day) or an earlier display on New Year’s Eve.
What can I do for my dog? 
It can be helpful to take your dog out for exercise before the fireworks start, and give them a good meal a couple of hours after the exercise but before the fireworks start. A tired and well-fed dog may be less anxious during the night.  
If you can, stay home with your dog. Let your dog be with you, remain calm and perform your normal activities. Avoid fussing over your pet excessively as this may encourage anxious behaviour ‚Äì just try to engage them in normal activities such as playing and reward them for their calm behaviour. 
Keep your dog indoors if possible, close the blinds, and create a comfortable hiding place (like a cardboard box with blankets inside). You can also put on some soft music or the TV to help mask the noise outside. 
Dogs who panic can choke themselves on a collar or lead, so never tether your dog during fireworks and never use a choke chain to restrain your dog. Dogs should not be left outside alone as this greatly increases the risk of them getting scared and distressed or escaping.  
You should make sure your dog is microchipped and that your contact details are up to date on the microchip register, as well as ensuring they are wearing an ID tag so if they do accidentally escape they can be returned. 
What about other pets and animals? 
Cats should be kept indoors during fireworks (in fact, it‚Äôs safer to keep them inside most of the time). Ensure they have somewhere comfortable and safe to hide ‚Äì most cats will find somewhere to hide away and usually venture out when the noise stops. You can use some of the same tricks as for dogs too, like closing blinds and playing some soft music or TV to mask the noises. 
Horses often escape during fireworks, and are often injured. If possible, horses should be securely stabled or temporarily moved to a location away from the fireworks display. Any sharp objects that might injure a panicking horse should be removed, stable windows covered to hide the sight of the fireworks and to reduce the noise, and food and water should be available. 
If you know your animal is very fearful of fireworks, it is a good idea to talk to your veterinarian well before the fireworks are scheduled. They can provide professional advice on other ways to help your pet, such as training and medication. 
Wildlife can also be affected by fireworks. Wild birds will often take flight and injure themselves, and larger animals like kangaroos, wallabies and wombats may flee and end up on roads. Fireworks debris is also toxic if ingested by animals. Make sure you have the details of local wildlife carer organisations close at hand, in case you encounter an animal that needs your help. 
By taking some precautions, we can all make sure that the holiday season is a safe and happy one for our pets.
You can read more on the RSPCA Knowledgebase
This article was originally published in Australian Community Media newspapers