Petflix and chill: scientists develop films for cats and dogs to reduce stress caused by fireworks
November 5th is an exciting time of year for most of us, but for those with pets it can also prove stressful... now help is at hand thanks to a bizarre development by scientists.
Fireworks night could be a little more bearable for Britain’s cat and dogs after the release of the first films scientifically developed to help reduce feline and canine stress caused by the explosions and bangs.
The films for cats and dogs have been developed by MORE TH>N Pet Insurance and feature the voice of Doctor Who actor David Tennant as a ‘soothing narrator’.
The movies are entitled Woofering Heights and Peer Window in homage to the Emily Bronte and Alfred Hitchcock classics and can be viewed on YouTube.
Although to us humans the short films may appear abstract and surreal scientists claim they are highly compelling viewing for their intended audiences of cats and dogs.
According to MORE TH>N, they draw on extensive scientific insights into the precise forms of audio and visual content that can at first capture and arouse the attention of a cat or a dog before gradually inducing feelings of relaxation and sleep.
The company worked closely with animal behaviourist Karen Wild and vet Robert White-Adams throughout the making of both films.
In addition to compiling an in-depth academic report, Karen Wild consulted on both productions to ensure they would stay true to the research and have the potential to relax cats and dogs and counter the effects of noise phobia.
Peer Window - a nod to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window - is set entirely within a window frame to reflect a cat’s habitual behaviour of staring out of windows for approximately five hours a day.
The film depicts a blend of animate and inanimate objects, as recommended by the academic research, including looping scenes of fish, swaying trees, rain droplets and rippling water, among other abstract images. Accompanying these scenes are melodic sounds in cat-friendly frequencies and the softly spoken tones of Tennant – based on the scientific insight that a human voice can relax cats.
Woofering Heights, the film for dogs, employs key scientific prompts by incorporating slowly moving pastoral scenery, a cast of sedentary dogs and the relaxing lilt of Tennant delivering an Emily Bronte-inspired narration full of words and cadences that can calm canines. What’s more, the film has been shot entirely in a dog’s colour spectrum of blues and yellows – heightening the viewing experience for them.
The films are designed to be played to cats and dogs a number of times in the days leading up to the 5th of November, allowing them to become familiar with the content and learn by association. Both of the short films replay after the credits roll to reinforce the feelings of calm and relaxation.
Pet behavioural expert Karen Wild said: “Noise phobia in cats and dogs can lead to distress, injury and long-term behavioural problems, so it’s important for pet owners that they do as much as they can to help calm and relax their animals.
“These films may seem strange to humans, but it’s important to realise that cats and dogs do not perceive the world in the same way we do and will respond to completely different audio and visual stimuli. Hopefully these films, in conjunction with other veterinary-approved measures, can have a positive effect on cats and dogs that suffer from noise phobia.”
George Lewis, head of pet insurance at MORE TH>N, commented: “Our intention with these films is to create something practical for worried owners to use to calm their cats and dogs.
“Tried and tested with pets and their owners, these films have the potential to reduce the stress pets experience around Bonfire Night when loud fireworks are in full flow.”
Vet Robert White-Adams added: “Anything we can do to move their attention away from what’s scaring them to something more calming and relaxing is a valuable tool to have.”
In addition to playing the films to cats and dogs, owners can try to reduce the impact of fireworks by following the advice from vet Robert White-Adams below:
1. Take your dog outside during the day and exercise them so they are tired. As with humans, physical exercise induces endorphin release, which amongst other things has a potent anti-anxiety effect.
2. About an hour before expected fireworks give your dog/cat a medium sized normal meal. The feeling of satiety carries a potent natural anti-anxiety effect.
3. Move your pet to the area of the house in which you believe they feel most at home.
4. Cover the windows and doors, and turn on lights – you are aiming to reduce the impact and awareness of light flashes outside.
5. Put on some background music at a moderate volume – preferably music with a constant and distracting bass or beat. You are aiming to reduce the startling impact of crashes, bangs and whistles from outside.
6. If your pet is awake and active, try and distract them with gentle, calm play.
The videos can be viewed on YouTube here:
Woofering Heights Film for Dogs: https://youtu.be/_xAFSNn335E
Peer Window Film for Cats: https://youtu.be/z0xL2Q7D384
A making of documentary: https://youtu.be/0MHF-f55vd8