One of America’s favorite holidays is just around the corner! Many of us enjoy celebrating the 4th of July with fireworks. Unfortunately, this holiday can lead to some of the worst days and weeks of the year for many animals. Even pets that do not have other behavioral concerns can become profoundly fearful when hearing the loud celebratory booms. Remembering that fear is in the eye of the beholder, it’s important that we acknowledge that although we know the world isn’t ending, our pets can’t understand this concept. To them, they may be fearing for their lives. The good news is that there are many ways that we can help our pets be as comfortable as possible during this upcoming holiday!
Here are some steps that we as pet owners can take to prepare our pets for the 4th of July:
- Create a safe haven. Many pets will attempt to hide when they are scared. We can provide them some comfort by giving them a safe space to relax and hide out away from the loud noises. Pick a place that your dog or cat would prefer to hide out or where they normally take themselves to relax. This can be a crate (if your dog is comfortable in a crate), a bathroom (some dogs even like escaping to the bathtub!), the corner of a bedroom (especially if it is downstairs or in a quiet area of the house), or a closet. Many cats like hiding under beds or other furniture. It is ideal to avoid a place where there are windows as these locations are generally louder and some animals will become worried about seeing fireworks since the sight can predict the noise. Many dogs prefer smaller spaces. Cover crates to keep them dark and keep lights low. Ensure your pet has access to food, water and comfortable bedding. It may help cats to move a litter box near their hiding space so that they don’t have to venture out to eliminate.
- Audio blocking. Here are some ways to decrease how much outside noise our pets hear: white noise machines or apps, fans, music (especially calming music such as “Through A Dog’s Ear” or “Through A Cat’s Ear” – also available on Spotify). Cotton balls can be gently placed just inside dog’s ears as long as this is comfortable, does not cause any distress and can be done safely. “Mutt Muffs” are headphones for dogs that can help block outside sound. To ensure your dog can comfortably wear headphones, it is recommended that you take the time to positively train your dog how to wear the headphones. Involve a positive reinforcement trainer if you need assistance with this!
- Identification. Ensure all pets are wearing identification at all times. If your pet accidentally gets outside, they may run far away to try to escape the loud noises. I recommend always using a break-away collar so that if your pet gets caught on something, the collar will release and not become a strangulation risk. Since collars can fall off and ID tags can be lost, I recommend that all pets are microchipped. This is the best way to guarantee they will find their way home should they become lost.
- Calming pheromones. Pheromones are chemical messengers that can affect an animal’s behavior. There are pheromone products for both dogs and cats that have been shown to help decrease stress and fear. In dogs, I recommend using Adaptil during times of stress. The collar is body-heat activated and is worn 24/7. The collar is made to be a break-away collar and lasts for about 30 days. There is also a spray that can be used on a bandanna. The spray lasts 2-4 hours and can be used as often as necessary. For cats, a Feliway Classic pheromone diffuser may provide support. Each diffuser covers about 600-700 square feet.
- Avoid spending evenings outdoors. Aim to exercise and walk your dog in the early morning when you are least likely to encounter noise triggers. If your dog is likely to bolt or attempt to escape if they hear a firework while on a walk, it may be best to walk them with not only a harness or collar and leash, but also with a slip lead that can be used as a backup should your dog accidentally get out of their harness or collar.
- Utilize engaging distractions. Provide enrichment activities for you pets to keep their minds engaged. Check out the free, online “Enrichment” course at instinctdogtraining.com. Cats benefit from enrichment as well!
- Talk to your vet about medication support. Pharmaceutical intervention can be very helpful for many pets. Just like we would use antibiotics to treat an infection or insulin to treat diabetes, we should treat our pet’s fear and anxiety with pharmaceutical support. Pet’s should not be forced to just suffer through scary times, as this affects their welfare and quality of life and can also contribute to worsening behavior patterns over time. We are fortunate that there are MANY options available to help support pets that are afraid of loud noises. Please plan ahead and ask your veterinarian for advice on medications that may help your pet. Medications should be trialed first to ensure that they provide the support we are intending, so do not delay! Schedule an appointment to discuss this with your veterinarian as soon as possible. If your veterinarian is not familiar or comfortable with the variety of behavioral supplements and medications available, the Animal Behavior Clinic offers “Vet to Vet” consultations. We can help your veterinarian decide on the best pharmaceutical plan for your pet. If you would like to schedule an appointment directly with one of our doctors, please reach out. We are currently able to offer virtual consultations to patients all over the country and we would be happy to help you and your pet!
With preparation and planning we can dramatically improve our pet’s welfare and quality of life during a potentially scary time. Fireworks may be heard for weeks before and after the 4th of July so it’s important to have strategies in place as soon as possible. From all of us at the Animal Behavior Clinic, we wish you and your pets a Happy 4th of July!
Dr. Kim Krug
Resident, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists