The Most Effective Ways to Calm Stressed Pets During Fireworks
Booming fireworks can send pets into an anxious spiral. Here are the tips, techniques, and products recommended by experts to manage and treat fearful furbabies.
Pets can tell when a storm is approaching. They sense changes in atmospheric pressure, see flashes of light, and feel static buildup on their coats. But, unlike with an upcoming thunderstorm, fireworks offer no cues to tip-off pets. As pretty as they are, fireworks and their accompanying unexpected loud booms can send four-legged family members into an intense panic.
"While we can’t say for certain why these events cause so much stress for our canine and feline friends, it is most likely due, at least in part, to the sudden emergence of these sounds in the environment," says Lisa Radosta, DVM, DACVB, Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist working with Purina. "When these types of events occur frequently, dogs and cats can become hyper-vigilant and generally anxious, waiting for the ‘boogieman’ around every corner."
The time around July 4th is especially dangerous for pets. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that pets be microchipped and wear identification tags to ensure they are returned home should they bolt during fireworks shows or parades. But aside from updating their ID information, what can you do to help a fearful pet cope during fireworks? It all starts with recognizing the signs of stress and intervening before your pet causes harm to himself or others. The experts have your back on this, and here's what they have to say.
Signs of a Stressed Pet
Chances are, you don't deal with stress in the same way as your sister, brother, mom, dad, partner, or best friend. Humans show they're stressed in different ways, and so do animals. "Every pet will have different responses to stress," says Radosta, who notes that the most common signs of stress in dogs are panting, pacing, barking, hiding, dilated pupils, ears back, and whining.
Some signals may not seem as obvious, though. Certain dogs may be inclined to fight (if they feel threatened), retreat or seem tired, or even become hyperactive, says Mikkel Becker, dog behavioral counselor and lead animal trainer for Fear Free.
How to Help a Stressed Pet
The best thing you can do is to plan proactively, even if a puppy or dog hasn’t shown signs of anxiety, says Becker. Try one or a combination of these remedies to help a pet feel less fearful during fireworks.
Create a Safe Space
Both Becker and Radosta recommend giving pets a safe room or area within your home that's sheltered from outside noise or whatever is scaring them. A bathroom, basement, closet, or crate are all good options (if using a crate, leave the door open so the pet can move freely). In this safe space, pet parents can calm pets down and refocus their attention. Radosta suggests playing a game or distracting them with a food-filled toy (try the West Paw Zogoflex Qwizl Interactive Treat Dispensing Dog Puzzle Treat Toy, $15.95, Amazon). "When the pet is calm, you can work on behavioral treatments, such as a noise aversion program," says Radosta. She recommends Dog Nerds, from $74.
When it comes to managing your pet's fireworks-related anxiety, noise-reducing apparel can be a big help. Many groomers embrace the Happy Hoodie (from $9.99, Happy Hoodie), which covers a dog's ears like an ear band and muffles sound; it can help dogs cope with booming fireworks and thunder, says Becker. (Cotton balls work if you're in a pinch—gently place them in the dog's ears before the fireworks show and remove afterward.)
A ThunderShirt (from $39, Amazon) won't reduce noise but it can help alleviate anxiety. It's a tight-fitting shirt designed to gently swaddle the pet and create a comforting hug-like pressure throughout its chest.
Play Calming Music and White Noise
Have you ever wondered which types of music can put pets at ease? Calming music for dogs includes classical music, soft rock, and reggae, says Becker. Or you can stream Through a Dog’s Ear (free with the Amazon app), which is music that matches the tempo of a dog's resting heart rate.
She also suggests simultaneously playing a white noise machine (try the Marpac Dohm Classic, $44.90, Amazon) or app (try White Noise Lite, Free, iTunes) so there's a consistent sound to drown out the fireworks when there's a lull in the music. Just make sure it's a neutral white noise—not rain if the pet is afraid of thunderstorms.
Talk to Your Vet About Medication
Vet-issued supplements or medication can be complementary to other training measures and help pets overcome their fears. "Medication can help pets have rational thoughts, form new memories, and build positive experiences," Becker says, which can help them cope and move beyond the fear.
Radosta says a new probiotic called Calming Care from Purina Veterinary Diets has been successful for many of her canine patients. Of course, before starting your pet on a new supplement or medication, consult with its primary veterinarian.
What Not to Do
"One of the worst things that a parent can do is to ignore their pet! Would you ignore an infant who was crying? What about a friend who was depressed? Do not leave your dog or cat to suffer alone," says Radosta. "When they are sad, get happy, excited, and playful. Lead them to safety, but don’t ignore them."
Becker says to avoid bringing pets to a parade or fireworks show. These environments are highly stressful for pets, so leave them at home instead. That may seem obvious, but unfortunately, it happens often. She also cautions against pulling pets out from hiding during fireworks. For example, if your pet has taken refuge under the bed or in a closet, leave him be; it's where he feels safe.
Remember, the Fourth isn't all fun and games for everyone. If your pet is bothered by fireworks and loud, frequent commotion, speak with your vet about different treatment options, create a calming environment, and keep your pet occupied indoors until the show is over. Your pet will be safer and happier for it!