4th of July is quickly approaching. Whether you are having a low key celebration or a lot of activity, one thing is for certain: Your pet will be exposed to fireworks.
While some pets tolerate fireworks very well, others are not so lucky.
Dogs and cats can become extremely anxious and stressed showing signs like barking/screaming, drooling, cowering/hiding, losing bowel control, and running away or harming themselves trying to escape the loud sounds. But the booms and screeches are not all that animals sense from fireworks. There are also vibrations, chattering windows, and the burning smell. Fireworks are entirely different then a natural occurring thunderstorm with precursors. They come without warning, catching the pets off guard and causing panic. Also, animal senses are far more sensitive than our own, and so their experience is more intense and frightening.
To help keep your pets safe, calm, and comfortable on these holidays, here are some behavioral tips:
- Ideally you can condition your pet to these noises way in advance, very slowly, and over time. It is never too late to start. Unexpectedly during the day and night play odd sounds (Halloween noises) and a firework sounds at a very low volume for short periods of time. Gradually increase the sound and the time. This is definitely not the same as actual fireworks but it may help to reduce some of the panic by making less of the experience new.
- The day of the fireworks, give your pet lots of activity and exercise to tire them out by nightfall.
- If this is your pet’s first year with you during fireworks, stay with them. If you cannot, have a trustworthy sitter stay with them or at the very least check on them often. It will help to comfort them if you are with them. Give them love and reassurance and stay calm. They will be depending on you and sensing your feelings. If you are frantic, you could make them feel worse adding to their anxiety. If you are calm, it will help them to keep calm.
- Create a safe space for them. If they are crate trained and feel safe in it, use that. The space should contain: food, water, favorite toys, occasional special treats, their favorite blanket or bed, and a litter box for your cat with a comfortable place for your cat to hide. Close the windows as long as the room’s temperature stays comfortable. You can even use some other noise to help drown out the fireworks like relaxing music or putting on a TV (just make sure it isn’t playing fireworks). Get them in there and acclimated to the room 1 hr to 1/2 hr before the fireworks start.
In addition to these behavioral things, there are a number of products that can help, we keep them all in stock:
- Spraying or diffusing Adaptil (dogs) or Feliway (cats) products can really help. These are synthetic pheromones that help to relax your pets, mimicking biological signals to calm down. These are great for all kinds of stress and aggression behaviors. We have these in stock, we use them in the clinic and in our homes, and would be happy to talk to you about them.
- A Thundershirt (calming wrap) is a great product that we use on our own pets. It’s based on scientific studies that have shown that when an animal (or human) is tightly embraced, it causes the release of calming chemicals in our brain. For this to work the best, put them on the animal BEFORE they become anxious. We have these in stock, and can help you to properly fit them on your pet. When properly fitted, Thundershirts are effective in 80% of pets. You can see a video of a Thundershirt in action HERE.
- Finally, once we’ve tried these other methods, we can prescribe sedatives if nothing else works. Many of them are for use as needed for car rides, thunder storms, fireworks, etc. We’d be happy to talk about what is right for your pet.
- If your dog is a runner, you should get them microchipped. My grandfather’s dog, Abigail loved water, boats, mud, kids, food, and didn’t even mind thunderstorms, but she despised fireworks. Even one little bottle rocket would cause her to panic. One year the fireworks started earlier than we expected, and she did what any terrified dog would do. She ran away, but she left the yard, and it was hours before we found her, covered in ticks. We were very fortunate to get her back.
So, if you’re pet has trouble with fireworks, or even if it’s their first time, some of these tips can help you prepare and help your pet feel safe over the holiday. – Jessica, RVT