Bonfire Night: How to keep your dog and cat safe, according to experts

Woman with dog watching Bonfire Night. (Getty Images)
Don't forget about your pet's welfare when celebrating Bonfire Night. (Getty Images)

Bonfire Night is quite a spectacle that many Britons look forward to every year, whether it's attending a big fireworks display or inviting some friends over to play with sparklers and let off some loud bangs in the garden.

However, while the evening to remember Guy Fawkes on 5 November may delight people, our four-legged friends might be less thrilled about it.

With 38 million pets currently living in the UK, many of us must consider how the loud noise and bright flashing lights from firework displays might impact our beloved dogs and cats.

So, to help you mark the occasion in a way that keeps our furry friends safe, here's what you need to know.

Read more: Why normal noises could be stressing your dog

How does Bonfire Night affect dogs and cats?

Portrait of a dog with ears covered up with human hands. (Getty Images)
Bonfire Night might be your favourite time of year, but it's probably not your pet's. (Getty Images)

In 2021, the RSPCA received 11,785 reports of animals in distress due to firework displays.

And new polling from the charity shows 76% of animal owners surveyed reported that their pet appeared distressed during firework season.

As well as just unsettling them, displays can result in huge fear due to dogs and cats being spooked by loud bangs and flashes of light, and even cause fatal injuries for all kinds of animals (they might hurt themselves on fencing, farm equipment or fixtures and fittings within their housing) if things aren't done safely.

But the good news is that 69% of owners had taken at least one measure to help relax or prepare their animal at this time of year.

Playing relaxing music was the most common (36%) along with taking the animal elsewhere (29%).

“Whilst it's upsetting to see so many animals are needlessly struggling at this time of year, it is positive to see owners taking measures to prepare their animals," says RSPCA animal welfare expert Dr Mark Kennedy.

“In line with the survey, lots of RSPCA centres have sound systems in their kennels and play classical music to the dogs to help keep them calm."

Read more: Three-quarters of British dogs are depressed – how can we improve their mood?

How to look after your dog and cat's wellbeing on Bonfire Night

Cat hiding under bed sheets. (Getty Images)
Make sure your pets have a safe haven to cosy up in during fireworks season. (Getty Images)

While Kennedy acknowledges there is a widespread problem of fireworks negatively impacting our animals, he adds, "there are some crucial steps you can take to minimise the impact on your pets such as creating a calm environment and a safe space to go to."

He urges, "We would really encourage people planning on holding firework displays to be mindful of animals in your surroundings and to be courteous to neighbours to let them know what to expect."

Relaxing and preparing your dog and cat for what's to come is the first step you can take to protect their wellbeing on Bonfire Night. If you're unsure what this entails, here are the charity's top tips.

Play relaxing music to mask the sound of fireworks

You can use classical music playlists at home to muffle the sounds of fireworks for dogs and cats.

“Several studies have shown that auditory stimulation – playing calming sounds and music – may have an effect on the physiology and behaviour of dogs in rehoming and rescue environments and, at least in the short term, it is suggested that classical music may be beneficial in helping reduce stress for dogs in kennels," says RSPCA dog welfare expert and behaviourist Esme Wheeler.

The RSPCA Mount Noddy Animal Centre in West Sussex is one of the centres that has seen first-hand the benefit of playing classical music to pets in their care, including cats.

Sampson, a 10-year-old tabby cat brought into Mount Noddy after his owner passed away, for example, was struggling and becoming frustrated with his environment. After playing him the soothing music throughout the day, he is now happier, resting, sleeping and engaging in play and activities.

Read more: Cats really do love sitting in boxes (even illusory ones), according to science

Provide your dog or cat with a safe haven

Create a doggy den in a quiet area of the house and make it extra-special by placing tasty treats and their favourite toys inside. And for your cats, make sure they always have access to plenty of places around the house to hide and curl up in.

Try pheromone diffusers

A pheromone diffuser, which mimics calming scents that help to soothe pets, could be a wise idea (this can also be worn as a collar) if you want to help them feel more secure. But speak to your vet first.

Introduce changes to your animal's routine slowly

Owner walking Dalmatian dog in daytime. (Getty Images)
Adjust your pet's routine to minimise disruption from fireworks. (Getty Images)

So Bonfire Night isn't such a shock, the RSPCA recommends walking dogs while it's still daylight during the season. This way, if it's different from your normal routine, you can gradually alter the time of their outside walk to coincide with less firework noises.

Again, if you're planning on bringing pets indoors on Bonfire Night at times when they'd usually be outside (with your cat no doubt usually free to roam as it pleases), start to make this change now to help get them more comfortable.

Speak to neighbours and organisers

Check local press and websites and speak to your neighbours and local councils/schools to find out dates of displays in advance so you can plan ahead of time to help your animal. This will help with any ongoing or future celebrations too.

Soundproof your house

Simple adjustments like closing windows and curtains can make the world of difference, by making your house feel safer and your pet more secure. Again, start doing this now to help them get used to it.

Desensitise them to sounds

You can teach your pet to deal with the often-alarming sounds by using special training CDs. The RSPCA recommends 'Sounds Scary' which comes with guidance on how to use it.

And similarly to using calming music to mask the sound of fireworks, both need some getting used to and are long-term approaches that could be worthwhile to continue with ahead of next year too.

Get help

If your pet has a severe fireworks fear, then speak to your vet now to plan or discuss whether there are any treatment options to help them. If needed, they can also refer you to a professional clinical animal behaviourist.

Read more: Dog language decoded: What your pooch is trying to tell you

How to keep your dog and cat safe on Bonfire Night

Photo taken in Bicester, United Kingdom of fireworks display. (Getty Images)
Go to an organised event to minimise the number of fireworks across the UK. (Getty Images)

Other than looking after the wellbeing of your pet, there are steps you can take to reduce the chances of fireworks actually frightening or injuring them in the first place.

To help prevent your pets – or horses and livestock – being affected, the RSPCA says you can make displays less frightening and safer by following these measures:

Go to an advertised, organised firework event

As mentioned, this will allow owners to prepare their animals before the event if they need to. And generally speaking, going to organised events also reduces the overall number of fireworks that disturb our pets, and takes them away from residential back gardens.

Only let off fireworks on traditional celebration dates

By only letting off fireworks on Bonfire Night itself (or Diwali, New Year's Eve, Chinese New Year etc), this will prevent pet owners (and of course, pets) from being surprised by displays on days they didn't expect.

And if you're purchasing fireworks, only use low-noise ones to reduce the likely fear and stress caused to animals, and let your neighbours know well in advance.

Pick up fireworks debris and litter after it has cooled down

Dispose of firework remains safely as it can harm any wandering animals. With this in mind, avoid aiming fireworks over fields or other countryside where it will not be possible to retrieve fallen litter.

Other than protecting dogs and cats, never set off fireworks near livestock (horses especially can injure themselves); don't let off fireworks near areas known to be wildlife habitats and build any bonfire as close as possible to the time of lighting (make sure hedgehogs and other wildlife aren't sleeping in the pile when it's lit).

Watch: Dog behaviour expert reveals tips to keep pets safe on Bonfire Night

The RSPCA's #BangOutOfOrder campaign is also calling on UK governments to follow Scotland's lead and introduce legislation on limiting the sale of fireworks, introduce firework control zones, introduce a licensing system for the purchase and sale, and reduce the maximum permitted noise level.

For a reminder of the current rules visit the GOV.UK website page on fireworks: the law.

To help the RSPCA continue rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming animals in desperate need of care please visit our website or call our donation line on 0300 123 8181 or, for support, check this page on reporting cruelty or an animal in distress before calling on 0300 1234 999 between the hours of 8am to 8pm.