The 4 Best Ways to Calm Stressed Pets During Fireworks, According to a Vet
Plus, what not to do if your four-legged friend starts showing signs of anxiety.
Dogs and cats are very keen on their surroundings. For example, they can tell when a storm is approaching by sensing changes in atmospheric pressure, seeing flashes of light, and feeling static buildup on their coats. However, unlike 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. "The noise and vibrations of fireworks can cause many pets to feel stress and anxiety," says Jamie Richardson, D.V.M., a veterinarian at Small Door Veterinary in New York City.
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.
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. "Signs of anxiety caused by fireworks include pacing, restlessness, excessive panting, drooling, and hiding," Richardson notes.
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. Try one or a combination of these remedies to help a pet feel less fearful during fireworks.
1. Create a Safe Space
"You may notice that your pet hides in a closet or another small space when fireworks or thunderstorms happen; the enclosed space helps to dampen the sounds and make them feel a bit safer," Richardson explains. She recommends putting your pets in this designated area before the fireworks start to make them feel more comfortable. "Prepare this space by putting their favorite bed or crate and something that smells like you (such as a t-shirt) in this enclosed room to make it extra cozy," Richardson suggests. Engaging them in exercise, playing a game, or distracting them with a food-filled toy, such as the West Paw Zogoflex Qwizl Treat Toy ($21, Chewy), are also excellent ideas.
2. Use Wearables
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 ($15, Chewy), which covers a dog's ears like an ear band and muffles sound; it can help dogs cope with booming fireworks and thunder.
A ThunderShirt ($40, Petco) 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.
3. Play Calming Music and White Noise
Have you ever wondered which types of music can put pets at ease? "Playing classical music will help to counteract the ambient noises happening outside and has been scientifically proven to help reduce anxiety in pets," Richardson says. You can also stream Through a Dog’s Ear ($18, Amazon), which is music that matches the tempo of a dog's resting heart rate.
Another option is to set up a white noise machine, such as the Marpac Dohm Classic ($45, Amazon), or app (try White Noise Lite), 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.
4. Talk to Your Vet About Medication
Vet-issued supplements or medication can be complementary to other training measures and help pets overcome their fears. "Vets can prescribe anti-anxiety medications that can be a great help in reducing short-term stress and anxiety surrounding fireworks," Richardson says.
What Not to Do
"Do not take your pets outside to see the fireworks in an effort to desensitize them," Richardson warns. "Fireworks are not a natural occurrence, and oversaturating pets with these aggressive stimuli can make them withdraw and become more fearful, as they cannot escape it." She says that there's a big risk of your pet running away if they're exposed to loud noises, including fireworks.
"You can, however, try to condition your pet to these strange noises in the safety of the home," she says. "Start by playing firework noises on a low level in your home during the daytime while giving your pet treats, doing training exercises, or playing a fun game. You can see how your pet responds, and over time, slowly increase the volume to help desensitize your pet, so they associate the noises with a positive experience."
Remember, the Fourth of July 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!