Fear-Free Fourth of July
Fireworks have been a part of the celebration of our independence from before we were even independent. Our founders imagined the beautiful displays of bright lights, and noise reminiscent of cannon fire. Today, the tradition continues with larger and louder than ever displays. As beautiful and exciting as they are, our pets can take a different stance, and the fireworks and parties can be stressful for them. Thankfully, with a bit of preparedness and knowledge we can minimize the fear of our companions.
Be Empathetic: We know every year that loud, yet harmless, displays will close out a day long celebration. Our pets do not have the capability to know that these displays won‘t hurt them, or their family. All they know is that suddenly, loud scary noises are happening all around them. Sometimes, they can even smell the fireworks being used close to or in your own neighborhood. Oftentimes, their schedule has been deviated from, with many people having the holiday off and enjoying the outdoors, which can cause stress for some pets. We, as humans, may be caught up in the excitement of the holiday, the sun, and the celebrations, but let’s remember to take a moment to step into their paws.
Seek Medicinal Assistance: There are many anti-anxiety medications or sedatives that are available. With some planning with your veterinarian, you can review what would be the best fit for your pet in regards to medication. Sometimes being sedated is the kindest option we have for them.
Safety: Is your pet microchipped? Are you aware of all the places your pet could potentially escape from? Are you going to have people over that will be opening and closing the door to your home? The US sees a 30-60% increase in lost pets each year between July 4th and 6th. With that in mind, it is a good time to check the general safety parameters of your home.
Training: We can teach our pets that fireworks are not something to be alarmed by. Five to ten minutes per day of practicing with sound effects and treats can change a lot. Be sure to give treats after the noise so that they establish that “loud and scary” leads to treats and not that treats lead to “loud and scary“, which could worsen the fear, making the treats a threat. This works for cats, too! Remember to make it a high reward treat, something rare. Examples being peanut butter, or dried fish bits.
Reward a Non-Response: Some pets have no reaction to the fireworks initially, but could develop one later, so even pets that are seemingly fine should still be positively rewarded. Sometimes, if we exercise our pets well before a stressful event, they will be too tired to be scared.
Build a Den: Some pets might have an instinctual response to hide. This is not a bad response, so long as we can provide them a safe place to hide. Dogs that already have crates, and cats that have hidden spots are more likely to return to these places when afraid. Sometimes though, these places are still too open, and pets will hide in closets and under beds. Establish a place for your pet to make their safe spot. Comfortable and dark, usually far away from the windows, into a quieter section of your house or apartment. Placing a small speaker nearby to play calming music can be helpful. Giving dogs a longer-lasting treat, like a bully stick, Himalayan yak chew, or any other treat that takes them more than a few gulps to enjoy can also be helpful, so long as it doesn’t interfere with any dietary restrictions. With cats, usually just making the area quiet and dark is the best bet, with some pheromone spray or diffuser nearby.
Don’t hesitate to use and combine any of the above tips to find what works for your pet. Maybe Percy the kitten really likes to chase a toy all day, then with some help from anti-anxiety medications, will sleep through the fireworks. Or, Annabelle the dog knows that fireworks mean some quality 1-on-1 treat time with you, followed by hanging in her safety den with calming music playing.
Since fireworks are special and only happen once or twice a year, sometimes we forget that these experiences can be an ordeal for our furry loved ones. Sometimes these fears escalate over the years, or even seem to come from nowhere in a pet that has never reacted before. The infrequency of these events often means that behavior and health can change between now and then, which can change our pets’ reactions to fireworks. There are multiple ways to address your pet’s holiday fears. While pets may never enjoy the beautiful displays of fireworks that we appreciate, we can make it as easy of an experience as possible
Please note that all these tips are good also for other noise issues your pet might have, including fire alarms, ambulances, construction, or any other startling experiences for your pets. These are best combated by early practice and training. Like with small children, regular drills can help them establish a better response.