In the summertime, millions of Americans celebrate with family, food, friends, and of course, fireworks. Cities and towns from coast to coast mark Independence Day with dazzling fireworks displays that seem to outdo themselves each successive year. For our dogs, however, these booming celebrations can be extremely stressful, and even dangerous.
Pet anxiety relief and fireworks: the statistics
Pets that easily become spooked by loud noises can run away from home, get injured in traffic, or even become injured by the fireworks themselves. Animal control officials estimate a 30% spike in lost pet calls occurs each year in America, between the dates of July 4-6. In 2016, in one California community alone, the Bakersfield Animal Care Center took in 268 animals—over half its total capacity—during the Independence Day holiday. Multiply this by the thousands of communities across the country, and the scope of the problem becomes clear.
Signs of anxiety in pets
Sometimes, even those of us who know our dogs well can be uncertain about the behavioral signs that an animal is stressed or anxious. Dogs commonly express anxiety by:
- Tucking their tails
- Vocalizing (whining or barking)
A dog in a panicked state might become destructive, attempting to claw through a door or fence in search of escape. Cats are natural escape artists anyway, and those sensitive to loud noises like trucks, thunderstorms, or fireworks often seek a deep or distant hiding place, far from the crash and boom.
Be aware: Cats and dogs that run away from home due to fireworks can quickly become disoriented and unable to find their way back.
Pet calming tips
Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to calm a pet that becomes stressed by loud noises. If your dog is scared of fireworks, it helps to prepare for the event beforehand and have a plan for your furry friend. Here are some tips for how to calm your dog down during fireworks:
- Remove the noise: Anxious dogs can often be calmed either by swaddling in a familiar blanket or by a sound-damping garment like Mutt Muffs (noise-reducing earmuffs for dogs).
- Distract: Comfort and distract your dog with a toy, and reward calm behavior with treats. Getting them involved in another activity, like working on a Kong or other treat, can also help them forget about their stress.
- Hide: If you have cats, be sure they have a quiet, comfortable place to hide till the fireworks are done. Most often they’ll emerge on their own when they feel safe. Turning on the TV or playing some calming music might help drown out some of the noise.
- Medicate: In extreme cases, medication might be necessary to manage your pup’s nervousness. Talk to your vet prior to any scheduled fireworks or holiday festivities to determine if medication is an appropriate route. Pheromones, melatonin, or other prescriptions can soothe the nerves — as long as they’re taken under a physician’s instruction.
- Get the gear: Products such as thunder and anxiety jackets, white noise machines, or a pressure vest can help calm the animal. Dogs tend to relax when they’re comforted with pressure on their torso, so a hug or wrap might help.
- Work off energy: Most firework shows begin when the sun goes down. Prepare for the noise by going for a walk earlier in the evening so you’re not outdoors when fireworks go off. A long hike or extended playtime during the day could help the dog be less physically and mentally alert when the show starts.
- Get away: Even if they’re in the comfort of their home and familiar surroundings, dogs can still get anxious. It may be helpful to remove them from the situation by going for a drive in a quiet neighborhood. If they’re also nervous in the car, drive to a favorite park or a familiar spot.
- Desensitize: If the first fireworks show seemed to leave your dog with a bit of trauma and recurring nervousness, try desensitizing them to the sound. Play some fireworks sounds around your dog and give them treats throughout the exercise to counter-condition them.
Loss prevention and pet recovery
Sometimes, even our best attempts to calm a stressed pet fail, and we find ourselves in search of a runaway. The time to prepare for that possibility is before it happens with the following tips:
- Be sure your pet is wearing some sort of identification, like a tag or microchip.
- Keep your pet ownership and veterinary records for your pet handy.
- Make a list of the shelters in your area and keep it handy. If your pet does run away from home, there’s a good chance that someone will find it and bring it to a local shelter.
- Use the Internet—lost pet sites and even your local Craigslist can help connect you with a Good Samaritan who has taken your pet in.
Summer is a time of fun and celebration, but also one of responsibility. With so many pets lost due to fireworks fears, be sure to safeguard their environment. We hope the tips we’ve provided here will help you and your dogs have a safe and enjoyable Independence Day!
Editor’s Note: Like humans, cats and dogs can also become stressed by changes in their life—from the arrival of a new baby to the sound of thunder. These additional tips will help you recognize and reduce stress in pets.
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo, who is a partner for pet insurance with Bolder Insurance.