Lifestyle & Seasonal

Firework fear is very real for some pets

Our furry, feathery and leathery pets can get mildly upset or have full panic attacks during 4th of July celebrations. Here are a few tips to keep them calm. 

The loud booms of fireworks and thunder can cause anxiety in our pets. Astraphobia is the fear of thunder and lightning, and dogs, cats, birds, reptiles and livestock can all exhibit this loud-noise anxiety to storms and firework displays. The noise causes anxiety, and separation from their owners and sibling pets exacerbates it. Noise anxiety (coupled with separation anxiety) is a common problem for all pets. It is estimated approximately 23 million dogs in the US experience it. Shelters see a lot of “lost” pets on July 4th and 5th.

What to look for

If you are sitting out on the patio or your backyard during neighborhood firework displays and you see your pet suddenly exhibiting some of these behaviors, they could be signs of pet anxiety:

  • Excessive vocalizations: whining; barking; crying; meowing; chirping
  • Hiding/ low activity: covering eyes; holing up in dark and remote areas; stiffness; low eye contact and social withdrawal; clinging/needy manner
  • Hyper activity: trembling; pacing; running; destruction; excessive grooming; chewing; hissing; aggressive moves; eliminating in inappropriate places; attempts to escape
  • Physical maladies: diarrhea; open-mouthed, heavy breathing; lack of appetite; hunger

What to do

Most owners do not feel treatment of their pet’s anxiety is necessary. They sit out the celebrations with the pets or they comfort the pet when they return. If you know your pet has a fear of fireworks, make arrangements for at least one person to stay home. Here are a few more ways you can make the 4th easier for anxious pets.

Stay calm. Pets have been bred over millennia to be able to read human emotions. If they sense anxiety in you, they may get nervous themselves. Birds, cats and dogs all react to their human’s states of mind. Keep a neutral, serene attitude. Refrain from telling your pet “It’ll be OK” in a sing-song voice, as it reinforces the unwanted behavior. Play some nice music, pull the curtains and settle in. Be careful when opening and closing any doors to prevent escapes and loud slams.

Make a cuddle spot. Cats especially love cave-like spaces. Set up a box with blankets and toys. Keep the house dark and cool. Dogs often like blankets and pillows but tend to seek out larger, less-confined spaces. A Thundershirt or calming collar for your dog or cat may help calm them. The feeling of weight on the body helps settle anxieties.

Same old, same old. Snakes are never fans of big noises or crowds. Leave the snake it its habitat and refrain from handling during storms or fireworks displays. Routine is important to snakes, so make sure to follow your daily care schedule as normal that day.

Chew relief. Rabbits and other small furry creatures like gerbils and hamsters can tend to shake, thump, burrow, chew and pace during loud noise events. Darken their spaces, give them plenty of toys and distractions and speak to them gently and calmly. Don’t startle them if you can help it. If you reach your hand in to pet them, make sure they are expecting it.

Cover up. Birds can be tented in their cages (if tenting is a regular occurrence). Close all the windows and drape the curtains. Make sure any smoke from backyard grills or sulfur smoke from fireworks doesn’t make its way into the house. Sulfur from sparklers and any firework residue should be cleaned from the paver patio or driveways as it is poisonous to pets if ingested.

Petite party. Keep the guest list small. Parties plus fireworks can equal disaster for some pets. Your pet may interpret the squealing and cheers of the crowd as “something is very wrong here!”  The loud noises may get associated with strangers in your pet’s mind, and this can have lasting effects. It may taint each encounter with a new person from then on. Family members and friends with whom the pet is familiar will be the safest guests.

Lock it up. Close off escape routes. Sometimes our pets panic despite our efforts. Make sure all doors, pet doors, windows, vents, cabinets, etc. are securely closed.

Medications. In more extreme cases, medications can be administered to pets to help them through the 4th of July celebrations. Common advice is to dose the pets with Benadryl, but always ask the veterinarian before doing so. A small amount of anti-anxiety medication during the fireworks may be the best solution for a very nervous pet. Call the doc for advice. Be sure to time the dose for the fireworks.  It can take an hour or more for the medication to take effect.

Enjoy the 4th

We love our pets and don’t want them to suffer, but unless their anxiety is extreme, they will probably be OK after the noise is over. You can set them up in a safe spot inside and go outdoors to enjoy the celebrations without guilt. Summer is the season for all of us to get outside and spend time with family and friends. A little extra TLC for your pet over the long weekend will go a long way.


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