The sounds of fireworks can be very stressful for our pets who have no idea what is going on. Frightened pets can easily become lost as they take off in a blind panic to try and escape the noise. Animal control officers across the country report a 30-60% increase in lost pets between July 4th and July 6th each year.
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 (or anytime there are fireworks):
1. Be prepared in case your pet gets lost.
Always have collars with current ID tags on your pets. Keep your contact information up to date with your microchip company (or register your pet’s microchip if you haven’t already). And make sure you have a good, current photo of each of your pets in case they get lost.
2. Don’t set off fireworks.
This should go without saying. Don’t set off fireworks. Your pets, your neighbors’ pets, and local wildlife thank you. Ask your neighbors to refrain from setting off fireworks as well.
3. Don’t assume that fireworks won’t be a problem for your pet.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming you don’t have to worry about fireworks because you live in an area where fireworks aren’t legal, or your neighbors haven’t set any off in the past. 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. Many pets do develop noise phobias later on in life, especially as they approach their senior years.
4. Be cautious with your pet before, during, and after the 4th of July.
Unfortunately, people don’t always limit their fireworks to just 4th of July night. Be cautious letting your pet outside, especially after dark, the week before and after the 4th of July.
5. 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 well before dusk to ensure that you’re not outside when the fireworks start.
6. 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 dog has 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.
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 also to prevent your pet from slipping out if someone comes in or out of the house. Close and lock all windows and doors to the outside.
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. A kong or lick mat filled with a favorite food can be a great way to keep your pet busy and focused on something else. But don’t force it; your pet may be too frightened to eat or play.
13. If your pet does get lost…
Start by filing a lost pet report with your local animal control and reporting your pet as lost to your pet’s microchip company if they have one. Put up LARGE “lost dog” or “lost cat” posters (not flyers—flyers are small, and most people won’t notice them) at intersections around your neighborhood. Visit your local shelters in person every day and check for your pet. Remember that frightened pets, dogs especially, 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 at a very low volume that doesn’t bother your pet, 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 time, your pet will come to associate the sound of fireworks with something yummy or fun.
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