Barbecues, fireworks, and other activities are 4th of July staples. But if you are a pet parent, all of the festivities might be more stressful than fun. Fireworks often trigger intense fear and anxiety — especially in dogs. Barbecues can be anxiety-inducing (and dangerous for dogs), too. They are often noisy, and many pets just don't enjoy all of the unfamiliar people, smells, and sounds. Some fraidy cats and nervous doggos hide when frightened. Others run away. Some feel threatened and behave aggressively. However, your furry family member reacts to the holiday, keeping them safe and comfortable is up to you.
Independence Day will never be a calm, quiet holiday. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to ease your pet's anxiety and help them relax this holiday weekend. As veterinarians, we don't want you or your pet stressed out this Fourth of July. That's why, in this article, we're sharing tips on keeping your feline friend or canine companion safe and happy during the festivities. Let's jump right in!
Tips for Nervous Doggos
Dogs hear about four times better than humans and can hear many more frequencies than we can. If the sound of a loud firework going off startles you, just imagine how your poor pup feels!
There are several ways to make the 4th of July celebrations less scary for your dog, including:
- Stay home. Staying home is the best way to ease your dog's anxiety. If you leave them alone and they get scared, you could come home to an injured dog and a big mess in your home.
- Mind your body language. It may be hard, but try not to startle at the sound of fireworks. If you jump when you hear a loud boom, your dog will, too. They may also see your momentary fear as a sign that something is seriously wrong.
- Wear them out before the festivities begin. Take your dog for a long walk or play an intense game of fetch, early in the day before it's too hot or too loud, to ensure they're sleepy once the festivities kick off. A tired dog is less anxious than one who is bursting with pent-up energy.
- Provide distractions. Try to redirect your dog's attention to their favorite toy or treat. Doing so eases fear, and in time, it could even teach your dog to associate positive things with the sound of fireworks.
- Give your dog a safe place. Your dog needs a quiet, familiar place to go when feeling overwhelmed. Your canine companion might even already have a place where they go hide when frightened, like the bathtub or in a closet. If they don't, choose a dark, cool area. Whether you're hosting guests or dealing with loud fireworks, your dog will feel more relaxed if they have a place to hide.
- Try a Thundershirt. Thundershirts are vests designed to ease anxiety in dogs. They fit snuggly, and the pressure helps alleviate stress during fireworks, loud parties, and storms. Some pets even enjoy a heavy blanket on top of them or may wedge themselves between two dog beds.
- Make sure your home is secure. Even if your dog never leaves your yard, they may run away when scared. Double-check that your windows and doors are closed and locked. Block out flashing lights by closing the blinds and curtains. If you have a gate in your yard, check that, too. Ensure guests know where your dog is and that they must stay in that area during the festivities.
- Keep your dogs on a leash. Even if your dog is used to going outside off leash and has a good "callback" always keep them on a leash during the festivities to help avoid them running off if spooked.
- Have them microchipped before the big day. Did you know that more dogs go missing on the Fourth of July than any other day of the year? No matter how careful you are, no one is immune to accidents. Having your dog microchipped and ensuring they have tags with current contact information provides a much better chance of finding them if they get lost.
Suggestions for Scaredy Cats
Many cats experience extreme anxiety over the 4th of July, too. Their hearing is better than ours, and like their canine counterparts, they're often overwhelmed by loud noises and unfamiliar faces.
Here's how to ease your cat's fear this Independence Day:
- Create a safe space. Most cats already have particular spots they run to when frightened. They might hide under your bed, in a closet, on top of your kitchen cabinets, etc. Before the big day, place some of your cat's favorite things — like their bed — in their preferred hiding spot. Alternatively, set up a quiet room just for your feline friend.
- Use calming pheromones such as Feliway Diffusers.
- Try using distractions such as live birds on TV on your favorite streaming service, such as YouTube. Check out a Cat TV video here.
- Keep them inside. This weekend is not the time to let your cat roam. Even if they usually split their time between indoor and outdoor living, they must be inside during fireworks displays and loud parties.
- Make sure your home is escape-proof. Secure all doors, windows, and gates. Block off the cat flap if you have one. Make sure they can't squeeze themself into places where they could get hurt or get into something they shouldn't. Cats can cram themselves into pretty tight spaces, so be sure to block all openings — even if it seems there is no way your cat could squeeze through it.
- Make sure your kitty is microchipped. Just as with dogs, accidents happen, so you want to ensure your cat has a microchip and tags with up-to-date info to improve your chances of getting your cat returned to you should they escape over the holiday.
Independence Day is a day of celebration. Don't let it turn tragic by forgetting how stressful the holiday is for pets (and many other animals). Take steps to keep them safe, comfortable, and, most importantly, indoors. If your furry friend suffers from extreme anxiety, we're here for you. Contact us prior to the holiday weekend to schedule an appointment and discover additional ways to keep your pet calm all summer long. If this is an ongoing issue, we may also want to discuss the possibility of short-term medications for anxiety-inducing events and holidays.