As I (Perry Jameson) drove to work this week, I started noticing the white cargo boxes along my route that show up annually now and around New Year’s. They all have banners promoting the glorious firework shows you can put on yourself. Each municipality has also started promoting the massive firework displays they will have for their citizens.
For me, all I think of are the scared cats and dogs that have no idea fireworks are supposed to be fun. The loud sounds that you can not only hear, but feel, to them are a threat. We love the changing sounds, colors and flashes, but these unpredictable changes do not allow our pets to adjust. For most animals, the primary fear response is to run. With fireworks being so loud, there is no way to run away from them.
So take some precautions to prevent July 4 from being a stressful event for your pet.
It is fun having your dog at outdoor events. They love the sights, sounds and most of all, for them, the smells. During a massive city-organized firework display, however, they should be left at home. If your dog were to become stressed, there is no quick way to get them away from the lights and sounds.
Keep pets indoors during times when neighbors are shooting off their fireworks. Even for pets routinely outside, we recommend you have them indoors during these events. The sounds will be muffled and the flashing lights hidden from them when indoors. This also will prevent them from running away, which is the primary way pets handle fearful events.
Create a safe place for them to hide if they want. This may be your dog’s crate if they are crate-trained. Make sure their bedding and toys are located here. If you are going out, a small interior room is another option. If staying home, your dog should be kept close as they will be reassured by your presence. Cats like to hide when scared. This may be a dark closet or under your bed. Make sure they have access to their hiding place.
If your dog or cat instead wants to pace and vocalize instead of hide, let them. Forcing them to be still and quiet will only make their stress worse.
Make sure they get plenty of exercise earlier in the day so they are more likely to want to rest the night of the fireworks. Just be careful not to overdo it this time of year when they can easily overheat.
If you are worried how your dog will react, or in the past, he has had problems in advance, you could try to desensitize them. This involves playing firework sounds at a low level while simultaneously doing something they enjoy, such as eating treats or playing. Over time, gradually increase the sound. The goal is for your dog to eventually associate the sound of fireworks with happy feelings, not fear.
Dogs takes cues from us as how to react. So if we are stressed, they will be. If we are calm, they are more likely to be as well. They respond to our body language and tone, not to our words. Do not make a big deal about the loud sounds and bright lights and they will be less likely to as well.
If you know your pet does not handle fireworks well and you have tried the tips above before without success, then they may need some medication to remain calm. The family veterinarian is a great resource as to which medication is best for your individual pet.
Most of us like a good fireworks display, however this is one of the few times our pets feel differently.