As we move into the warmer months and the season of outdoor festivals and events, the familiar boom and kapow of fireworks will soon be ringing through the air. It’s a sound that we often associate with good times, friendship, and celebrations. Unfortunately, for many pets, storms and fireworks lighting up the skies warrants a different reaction – anxiety and fear.
Both thunderstorms and fireworks are loud, unpredictable, and can be frightening for unsuspecting dogs. This triggers their ‘fight-or-flight’ response. For some dogs, this leads to excessive barking. Other dogs will run away and hide, even fleeing from their home to get away from the ‘threat’. This is a major contributor to the more than 10 million pets that go missing each year in the United States, with the biggest day for disappearances falling on July 4th.
And it’s not just dogs. Cats can find fireworks just as scary as dogs and often associate the loud booms with danger causing them to panic, get disoriented, and maybe even run away from their loving home.
The good news is that there are several things that you can do to help your pets feel both safe and secure. While there is no one answer that works for every pet, you can experiment with the following tips and tricks to discover which solution works best for you. Because of the similarities between thunderstorms and fireworks, these tips might work well for both, but you might also need specific solutions for each cause of loud, unexpected sounds.
Thunderstorm and Firework Safety Tips and Tricks
1 – Find a “Safety Spot”
We all have a quiet spot or corner of our home where we can take refuge when the world feels overwhelming and the same goes for our non-human family members.
Ensure that a familiar area is available, such as a kennel, favorite room, or a place with you on the couch. Consider adding your pet’s blankets, comfy bed, or favorite toys to this space for further comfort.
2 – Be Calm and Try Not to React
Our pets read our emotions and are very intuitive to what we, as their pack members, are feeling.
Try to stay calm and unaffected by loud sounds whenever possible. If you become stressed or upset, this will contribute to your pet’s stress levels. On the other hand, if you stay calm and collected, your pet will take comfort in your response.
3 – Don’t Become a Statistic
Though National Dog Bite Prevention Week happens in May, dog bites are commonplace year-round. Know how to read your dog’s body language and react appropriately. Scared dogs can and will bite if they feel trapped or unsafe.
4 – Enlist in Some Herbal Help
There is an array of products available to help dogs and cats cope and relax when Mother Nature or noisy neighbors have other plans. Check with a veterinarian first, then check into calming agents or anxiety rescue treatments that can easily be added to water or lightly misted on or around your pet.
5 – Consider a Gentle Wrap
Using gentle acupressure maintained on the dog for stress reduction, a product such as the Thundershirt eliminates the need for medication in a large percentage of cases. Be certain to practice with the shirt and have your dog prepared well in advance of thunder and fireworks.
The Thundershirt is now available for cats as well.
It should also be noted that some pets find wearing tight clothing like this to be distressing. Pay attention to your pet’s response, so that you can respond accordingly.
6 – Distraction Action
A certain percentage of pets are easily comforted with everyday household sounds such as television, stereo, or appliance sounds like ice makers and vacuums in the background. Sometimes a distraction during the height of commotion is all that is needed. Some pet owners will blast a radio and leave it on all evening long when they know that there will be fireworks in the area.
Just proceed with caution. Are your neighbors happy about this? And is your pet upset by the sudden burst of noise? Their hearing is, after all, more sensitive than ours.
7 – Consider Conditioning or Desensitization
Use classic conditioning and play sounds of thunder or fireworks ever so softly and lightly so as not to induce a fear reaction. During this time, focus on doing pleasant things with your pet to help break the negative connection with these sounds. You can play with your pet, give them treats, or snuggle up on the couch for some love and attention.
As your pet gets used to the sounds at a low volume, slowly turn up while continuing to make this a positive time. Over time, your pet will associate the sound of fireworks or thunderstorms with joy and happiness.
8 – Don’t Leave Pets Alone
Never leave a noise-phobic pet alone where they risk harm to themselves, engaging in destructive behavior, or incessant barking.
But remember, pets should generally also not be taken along to watch the fireworks. These types of public displays are usually not the place for a dog, cat, or any animal. A more viable option would be to enlist the services of a trusted pet sitter who is equipped to deal with a panicked pooch or a frightened ferret.
9 – Keep Your Pet Indoors
Even if you have a dog or indoor/outdoor cat that enjoys spending much of its time outdoors, you should bring your pet indoors and keeping them there during firework displays and thunderstorms. A fearful pet may feel the need to run for safety, breaking free from even a gated backyard.
We can’t predict the weather or when a bottle rocket might sail through the air, but keeping pets safe and sound with these tips will make for a gentler, more enjoyable summer season for all.
What’s your best tip for keeping pets safe this time of year? We’re all ears!