How to Help a Dog or Cat Who's Afraid of Fireworks

Firework- heavy holidays like 4th of July or New Year's Eve can be scary for our pets. Here's how to minimize their stress around fireworks.

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Holidays and other fireworks seasons are often scary and overwhelming for our pets. The loud noises associated with firework displays can cause distress to them. Unfortunately, this can lead to cats becoming frightened and sometimes darting outside and getting lost.

Here's how to help a dog or cat who's afraid of fireworks, and keep them safe and (somewhat) comfortable on holidays like 4th of July.

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Prioritize safety

Regardless of if your cat has demonstrated anxiety about fireworks in the past or not, it's important to be prepared. Anxieties or fears can develop at any time so it's important to be prepared with strategies to keep your cat safe. Make sure that your cat is wearing a collar and a tag with updated contact information. If your cat has not been microchipped, this is a good opportunity to have a conversation with your veterinarian if the time is right for your cat or kitten to be microchipped. If your cat already has been microchipped be sure to check with your microchip provider to ensure that your contact information (address, phone number and email address) is accurate and updated.

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Block out sounds and visuals

To the extent possible, block out the sounds and visuals of surrounding fireworks. Use white noise to diminish the sound of fireworks as much as possible. You can purchase a white noise machine or simply DIY it with the resources in your home. You might turn on fans, put on a YouTube channel with soothing rain sounds, or all of the above.

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If fireworks are visible in the sky (or the street) from your home, close windows and blinds so that your pet doesn't see the flashes.

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Comfort your pet

Some people believe the myth that by comforting a fearful dog or cat, it will reward the anxiety and will increase the frequency, but that isn't the case. If you have a pet that is fearful about fireworks, it's ok to do whatever you need to in order to keep them safe and comfortable. You will not reinforce fear!

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Your pet is looking to you for support, and it's always ok to comfort a scared animal who is upset about fireworks (or any other scary stimulus). If you know your pet is worried about fireworks, it's a good idea whenever possible to adjust your schedule for the day to allow you to be with them, providing pets, cuddles and supervision to ensure they are safe.

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Keep pets safely confined

Fireworks can cause pets to get startled and run out open doors or windows and get lost. (The AKC points out that more pets go missing on July 4th and 5th than any other days of the year.) Make sure your pets are safely confined to your home and that there is no way they could escape through an open door or fence.

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For cats, it's safest to have them always inside, but if you do allow your cat to go outside sometimes, be sure to close all cat doors and keep your cat confined inside your home during the days leading up to any holidays where there will be fireworks. Similarly, if your cat regularly has access to an enclosed catio, it's a good idea to limit access to the catio during fireworks to prevent your cat from becoming spooked.

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When fireworks are happening, it's safest to keep your pets safely confined to a small, contained area of your home. You can hang out with them in a bedroom, or can even contain them in a bathroom if you feel that's safest, or if you need to step out for any reason.

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Create a safe space for scared pets

Cats who are worried or afraid generally feel most comfortable if they can hide or nest in a small area. Many cats naturally will find themselves small, dark, and out of the way places to hide when they are worried, like behind toilets, under cabinets, or between and under couches, chairs, and beds. If you anticipate your cat being concerned about fireworks, it can be helpful to proactively create a small nest/fort/safe space for your cat in a quiet, secure, and out of the way area of your home. Make sure that your cat has access to a litter box, food and water nearby to where you encourage your cat to seek shelter from the loud noises. It can also be helpful to bring your cat and treats into your cat's safe space to help comfort and distract your cat from the loud noises outside.

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Treat anxiety proactively

There are several options that can help cats and dogs feel less anxious on scary nights:

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Pheromone options:Feliway (for cats) and Adaptil (for dogs) are products that diffuse pheromones intended to calm the animal down. While not definitive, there is some evidence that these products can be effective for some cats and dogs. They are a low-risk option that might be helpful to use as a preventative measure.

As-needed anxiety medications:‌ Talk to your vet to see if they can recommend prescription anti-anxiety or sedative medication to help your pet cope with the fireworks. Medications like Sileo are intended to help dogs with canine noise aversion (intense fear of noises). There are also general anti-anxiety medications for both cats and dogs. Be sure to get all the information from your vet to make sure you are medicating your pet safely.

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The bottom line

Prioritize safety and comfort for your pets on holidays like 4th of July. Make sure your pet is unable to escape your home, and create a safe space for them to go if they feel scared. Talk to your vet about products like pheromones and anti-anxiety medications ahead of time, and remember, you will not reinforce fear by comforting your pet! Always provide your pet with lots of love and comfort if they feel scared.

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