For many people, the Fourth of July means fun and relaxation — enjoying a day off and watching fireworks. For some dogs, cats and other pets, though, fireworks displays can be stressful and anything but enjoyable. A pet’s reaction can range from mild (wanting to snuggle or hide until the noise stops) to severe (breaking through barriers to run away or being really destructive). The good news is that there are ways we can help our animals get through fireworks.
Pets and fireworks
When fireworks start, some pets immediately seek out a dark hiding place. If that is your pet’s coping mechanism, help him find a dark, windowless place — a closet or a crate covered in a blanket — to wait out the noise. You can try comforting him, but if he ignores your attention, go ahead and let him be alone. Some pets prefer to simply hunker down for the duration, so we need to respect that choice. Check on your pet periodically, though, to see if he’s OK.
If your pet decides that he wants to be with you, here are a few suggestions to help ease his discomfort and anxiety:
- Close the windows and curtains of the room that you are in, to help muffle the sound.
- Add some background noise that is slightly louder than the usual volume you might use. Avoid the urge to turn the background noise up to full volume, though, since that could add to your pet’s stress.
- Run a fan. The sound and vibration of a fan can help cover up the bothersome sounds.
- Give him a durable chew item. For some pets, chewing on something provides an outlet for their anxiety.
- Cover your pet with a blanket to give comfort and help him feel safer.
There are also several products that can help pets remain calm:
- ThunderShirt: This product fits like a snug T-shirt and uses gentle pressure to calm the pet. You’ll want to teach your dog or cat to wear the ThunderShirt during a non-stressful time so that you aren’t adding something new to an already overwhelmed pet.
- Pheromones: Another way to help lower a pet’s anxiety is with the use of pheromones (dog appeasing pheromones for dogs and Feliway for cats). These products come in various forms — as a wipe, spray, collar or diffuser — so that you can choose the best option based on the situation. Again, give the pet a chance to experience the pheromones before the actual stress-producing event occurs.
- Calming music: You can purchase calming CDs and collections that use soothing music and sound to help ease pets’ anxiety. Check out the company called Through a Dog’s Ear (throughadogsear.com).
Desensitization and counter-conditioning training
Another option is to use the training methods of desensitization and counter-conditioning to reduce your pet’s distress. There are CDs of fireworks, thunderstorm or city sounds that you can play to desensitize your dog to the noises that create fear and anxiety. These types of CDs are also available from Through a Dog’s Ear. You begin by playing the CDs softly and then gradually increase the volume so the dog does not react to the sounds.
You can use the technique of counter-conditioning to allay your dog’s fears by giving him a long-lasting, enticing treat (like a stuffed Kong or his favorite chew) while playing the CD. If your dog only gets the best treats while the CD plays, it can help create a more positive emotional response to the noise. To devise a detailed training plan for desensitizing and counter-conditioning, consider enlisting the help of a relationship-based dog trainer or behavior consultant.