The sounds of fireworks can be very stressful for our pets who have no idea what is going on. When frightened, cats typically find a place to hide and won’t come out again until they feel safe (which could be days later) and dogs will typically take off in a blind panic to escape the sound if they are not properly confined. It’s estimated that there is a 30% increase in lost pets during fireworks.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to keep your pet safe and help them feel more comfortable during fireworks. Here are our top 14 tips for pet owners for the 4th of July:
1. Be prepared just in case your pet does become lost.
These are things that you should be doing 365 days a year, like always having collars with ID tags on your pets, keeping your contact information up to date with your microchip company (or registering your pet’s microchip if you haven’t already), and making sure you have a good, current photo of each of your pets in case they get lost.
2. Don’t set off fireworks.
Even if you don’t have pets or you know for a fact that your pets are not bothered by fireworks, please be respectful of your neighbors and their pets, by not setting off fireworks.
3. Don’t assume that fireworks won’t be a problem for your pet.
Just because you may live in an area where fireworks aren’t legal or your neighbors haven’t set any off in past years, doesn’t mean that no one in your area will set off fireworks this year. Likewise, just because your pet is not bothered by thunderstorms or wasn’t bothered by fireworks last year, doesn’t mean they won’t be frightened by fireworks this year. Also, be cautious letting your pet outside after dark the week before and after the 4th of July as people do set off fireworks on other nights as well.
4. Exercise your pet before the fireworks start.
Exercise is a great stress reliever and will help your pet stay more calm during fireworks. If you really wear your pet out, they might even sleep through them. If exercising your pet outdoors, take precautions to keep your pet from overheating in the summer weather, and finish your exercise before dusk to ensure that you’re not outside when the fireworks start.
5. Keep pets at home and stay inside with them.
Don’t bring pets to a fireworks display even if on a leash, and do not leave them out in your yard even if it’s fenced. You’d be surprised how fast a frightened dog can back out of a collar or dig or jump over a high fence. Make sure your dogs have a potty break before the fireworks start and don’t let them out again until you’re sure the fireworks are over (it’s easier to clean up poop or pee inside the house than it is to find a lost frightened dog). Also have at least one family member stays home with the pets. Your presence will help your pets feel a little safer, and it’s also important that someone be there to monitor them because your dog, for example, may decide to do something destructive like dig through the wall in an attempt to escape the fireworks.
6. Stay calm.
Your pets react to your emotions. Your pets can pick up on any tension you have, and it can actually make their fears worse.
7. Confine your pets within the house.
Don’t allow your pets to freely roam the house during fireworks. Keep your pets confined to an interior room to help drown out the noise and just in case someone opens an outside door so your pet can’t slip out. Check that all windows and doors are closed and secure and preferably locked.
8. Respect your pet’s fear.
Don’t try to force your pet out of hiding in an attempt to get them used to the sound. If your pet is most comfortable under the bed or in the closet, let them stay there.
9. It’s okay to comfort your pet.
You may have heard the myth that trying to comfort your pet by petting or talking to them will only reinforce their fear and make them more afraid, but this simply isn’t true. Fear is an emotion, and emotions can’t be reinforced.
10. Drown out the sound.
Try to find the most sound-proof room in your house to confine your pet in. Turn up the TV or stereo or run a fan to help muffle the noise of the fireworks.
11. Try calming products.
There are a number of products available designed to help calm anxious pets, like the ThunderShirt, calming pheromones, sound therapy, or Rescue Remedy. While they don’t work for all pets, many pet owners report great success in using these products to calm their pets, so they’re at least worth a try.
12. Provide your pet with a distraction.
A favorite toy or treat may be just the thing to take your pet’s mind off the sound of fireworks, but don’t force it; your pet may be too frightened to eat or play.
13. If your pet does get lost…
Listing all the things you should do to recover a lost pet would take could take up several more blog posts, but some of the most important things to do are: file a lost pet report with your local animal control, put up LARGE “lost dog” or “lost cat” posters all over the area, and check your local shelters in person every day for your pet. Remember that frightened dogs can run incredible distances, so search well beyond your immediate area. For more tips on finding a lost pet visit the Missing Animal Response Network’s website.
14. Prepare your pet for next year by desensitizing them to the sound.
If your pet is frightened by the sound of fireworks, you can work on slowly getting them accustomed to the sound so that it isn’t a problem next year. You can purchase recordings of fireworks sounds or you may be able to find free recordings online. Start by playing the sounds very softly (remember our pets’ hearing is better than ours), and reward your pets with special treats or playtime while the sounds are playing. Slowly increase the volume over the course of many days; if your pet begins to show stress at the sound, it’s too loud, go back to a lower volume. Over the course of time, your pet will come to associate the sound of fireworks with something yummy or fun.
Keep your pets safe and comfortable and have a happy 4th of July!