How to help dogs and cats stay calm during 4th of July fireworks

Halloween may be a spooky holiday for people, but it’s the Fourth of July that scares our pets. An article in Today’s Veterinary Practice, a journal for vets, cites a 2005 study that found an estimated 49 percent of dogs show a significant fear response to firework noise.

That high level of anxiety can cause pets to panic and bolt out of the house or out their yards. In fact, PetAmberAlert claims 30 percent more pets go missing around the Fourth of July than any other time of year. Keeping pets calm during fireworks is important for their safety, clearly, but also for their overall health.

I’ve had two noise-phobic dogs in my life. These dogs didn’t just hide under a blanket until the loud noises passed. No, these dogs knocked over and climbed onto furniture, dug through the carpet to escape, tore up things and trembled so badly, I feared they would collapse or have a heart attack. Dogs with that level of noise-phobia can hurt themselves, and it’s up to us to develop a strategy to help them cope.

The best thing any pet parent can do is to prevent noise phobia from ever developing. Expose your puppy to low levels of the noise, such as a recording of fireworks or thunderstorms, increasing the volume and duration of exposure over time. Be sure to give your puppy lots of treats while doing this so it makes a positive association with the noise.

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But if your dog is already an adult, there are several things you can do to ease its anxiety this Independence Day — and I have learned the key is to combine several anxiety-reducing approaches:

  • Medicate dogs hours in advance of fireworks.
  • Turn on a sound machine and play an action movie or music at high volume.
  • Dress your dog in a Thundershirt and an Anxiety Wrap at the same time.
  • Keep dogs in the house from dusk until after 1:30 am so they don’t get startled by a firecracker going off while trying to relieve themselves.
  • If your dog is most calm in a kennel, try moving the kennel into a closet and drape it with blankets to help further muffle the noise.
  • Try plug-in pheromones or pheromone collars and over-the-counter herbal or homeopathic products that promote calm.

Cats can be just as noise-phobic as dogs, but you may not know it because their panicked behavior is to run away, hide, curl up tightly or excessively groomly — all things they do naturally, but they do more of it when they’ re anxious.

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With kittens, use the same counterconditioning techniques described for puppies to expose them to a variety of sounds so they are not fearful as adults.

For already noise-phobic cats, make sure they have places to hide in the house and easy ways to get there. You also can use feline pheromones and over-the-counter products formulated for cats.

Send your pet questions, tips and stories to You can follow her on Twitter at @Cathymrosenthal.

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