Keeping pets and wildlife safe on bonfire night
The magic of Bonfire Night is fast approaching but – as Scouts all over the UK preparing for a night of sizzling, sparkling fun – it’s worth bearing in mind that fireworks can be a source of fear and danger for pets and for wildlife.
Whether you’re keen to help the family cat stay calm, or just want to make sure you can light your bonfire without disrupting the lives of your local wildlife, follow these top tips to keep animals safe at this special time of year.
Protecting dogs and cats
Keep dogs and cats indoors, ensuring all windows and doors remain closed. If you normally walk your pet in the evening, make time to do this a little earlier in the day.
Make sure your pet always has access to a safe space to hide if they want to. This could be a favourite spot under the stairs, or inside a cupboard, for example.
To increase their sense of security, you could also build a ‘den’ in the quietest room of the house, where your pet can rest, retreat and regain a sense of control. For example, you could place a comfy bed inside a cage (with the door open), alongside their favourite toys, water, treats etc. For extra soundproofing, place blankets over the roof of the den or play music to muffle the noise of the fireworks.
Ignore the firework noises yourself and try to behave as normally as possible around your pet during the event, maintaining your routines where possible. You can try to play with your pet if you like, but should not force them to engage if they seem withdrawn, anxious or uninterested. In some cases, it may be kinder to give your pet some time and space to themselves, quietly checking in on them at regular intervals.
Some pets might appear to ‘misbehave’ when distressed (eg barking excessively, refusing to eat, pacing or going to toilet indoors) but you should never punish them for being scared – this will only worsen their fears in the long-term.
Protecting smaller pets (eg rabbits, guinea pigs)
If your pet lives outside, partly cover their cage, pen or aviary with breathable blankets, making sure they’re still able to look out. You might want to provide extra bedding for burrowing and sound protection.
Alternatively, you could consider bringing small pets indoors for the night. This usually needs to be done gradually, so you may need to plan ahead to help your pet acclimatise.
As autumn hits, piles of wood and leaves can look most inviting to hedgehogs, frogs, toads and newts seeking shelter for the winter. To help keep them safe during your bonfire celebrations:
Build your bonfire in a wide open space, avoiding any nearby trees and hedges. As well as being a fire risk, the flames can disturb nesting birds and other wildlife.
Build your bonfire shortly before you light it, so that curious critters don’t have enough time to move in. Before striking the match, check through the pile one last time, using a torch. Better still, lift up the base to listen out for any noises, transfer the pile to a new spot and light from one side.
If you do find a hedgehog, pick it up using gloves and move it to a sheltered place under a tree or hedge, as far away from the bonfire as possible.
Don’t burn all of the nesting materials in your garden. Leaving some dead wood and leaves untouched will divert attention away from the bonfire site and allow local wildlife to behave as normal.
Put the fire out properly. When your fire has gone out, the ashes can smoulder and stay hot for a day or so, especially if you’ve had a big fire and the weather is dry. Animals can wander into the hot ashes and get injured, so thoroughly damp down the embers with water.
Take care with fireworks. Keep them well away from trees and hedges, and make sure you clear up any fragments left behind after your display. Small animals may decide to investigate them and get their heads stuck inside.
Notify neighbours and firework display organisers so they can make sure fireworks are set off in the opposite direction, well away from the horse(s).
Keep your horse in its familiar environment with its usual companions.
If you decide to keep your horse in a stable, check thoroughly for anything that could cause potential injury, such as protruding nails and string, and ensure the haynet is secured. If you decide to keep your horse in the field, check fencing is secure and that there are no foreign objects around.
Ensure that somebody experienced stays with your horse if possible, while also bearing their safety in mind, as startled horses can be dangerous.
Position a radio outside the stable to mask sudden noise, distract attention and provide comfort and reassurance.
Will there be a bonfire nearby? If so, make sure you have an emergency fire procedure in place. If you have any doubts, talk to your local fire safety officer.