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Red, Fright, and Blue

It’s that time a year again – we see a lot of red, white, and blue and we see tons of scared dogs and cats. My neighborhood is already experiencing loud noises and little bright explosions that terrify local dogs and cats.

This is also the time of year when animal shelters get the most calls about “lost” pets. (I put “lost” in quotes there because I firmly believe that these animals haven’t been lost. Humans have chosen activities to cause animals to run in fear for their lives.)

There are many things we can do to reduce dogs’ and cats’ anxiety around the fourth and at other times.

Before the festivities begin

  • Prepare their safe places. Get their favorite hiding places ready for them to settle in for a few yours. In their hiding places, put some of your recently-worn but unlaundered clothing for them to lay on. Smelling you will reduce their anxiety a bit. Stash favorite chew toys in their happy place, too. Chewing helps reduce anxiety for many dogs and some cats. Remove anything that might be damaged by anxiety-caused destructive behavior.
  • Start using calmative products a few days in advance. Once you know which calmative (pheromones, flower essences, aromas, herbal chews and biscuits, shampoos, lotions, and topical powders – gee I need to write an article about calmatives, eh?) works for a specific animal, start using it before the stressful event. This will help them feel relaxed long before the scary stuff starts happening. If you haven’t used calmatives before, start trying them out a few months in advance. That way if one doesn’t work on your dog or cat, you can move on to trying another, and another until you find just the right one for your pet. My own cats respond well to Rescue Remedy, so I add it to their drinking water for a few days in advance and on the day of the scary event. (I get custom-blended flower essences from Lin Gregerson of Sterling Naturals. Lin makes a flower essence called “Peaceful 4th” specifically for fears associated with fireworks activities.)
  • Use sedative medications if necessary. If you know that your dog or cat is distressed by Fourth of July activities, talk to their vet in advance about using sedatives on the day of the big bangs.
  • Make sure their collar tags are up-to-date. If they’re microchipped, be sure the chip company has your current contact info. Also get a recent photo of them. These will help just in case they escape.

On the day of the festivities

  • Most importantly, keep dogs and cats away from the action. Make sure they are at home and inside. If it’s out of the question to bring them in for the evening, make sure they are contained in an escape-proof area outside: in a pen or on a leash, with a safe hiding place within reach. Please resist the urge to take them to fireworks displays. Even if you give them sedatives, the lights and sounds can cause them to dart away unexpectedly.
  • Exercise earlier in the day. Many animals respond well to getting extra exercise before a stressful event. The theory is that the activity will help tire them out and make them more likely to relax later. “[Exercise] is just like a sedative. But it is a more natural sedative.” (Kwan)
  • Show them their safe hiding place. Since you prepared this in advance, show them the happy place you’ve created for them. They’re best left undisturbed when they’re cowering in a safe place.
  • Give them something to chew on. Chewing helps reduce anxiety for many dogs and some cats. Different animals have different preferences – some like plush toys, some like unstuffed toys, some like rubbery toys, some like blankets, etc.
  • Buffer scary noises. Close windows and put on some relaxing music. Ideally, you could have the music be louder than the fireworks. But loud music can be stressful to them even if it’s “relaxing” music, because dogs and cats have more sensitive hearing than humans.
  • Let them pace or whine. It’s ok to let dogs and cats do this because these activities can reduce anxiety.
  • Act normal. It’s often more helpful to animals if their people remain relaxed and act normally.
  • Use calmatives & sedative medications. Remember to use these in advance of the commotion starting.
  • Try calming massage or compression. Some animals are more anxious when people try to cuddle and touch them. But most respond well to light compression or to calming massages, like Tellington Touch.
  • Distract them with fun toys. Note: this will work best with animals who are only a little nervous. Those who are extremely scared will find distractions just more overwhelming.

After the festivities

  • Make sure they don’t eat the grass where fireworks debris has fallen. Many types of fireworks contain toxic substances, like potassium nitrate, arsenic, and other heavy metals.
  • Let them hide as long as they want. It’s best to let them decide when they feel it’s safe enough to come out of hiding. If necessary, take their meals to them in their safe places. Adding hunger to the fear is not a good idea. Sticking to their normal routines and mealtimes is very reassuring.
  • Exercise. Many dogs and cats find it easier to relax and calm down after exercising.

Other important safety tips

  • Never keep animals in the car on hot days. Dogs and cats have been known to go into shock and die after only a few minutes in a hot car.
  • Keep alcoholic beverages out of the reach of dogs and cats. According to the ASPCA “If ingested, the animal could become very intoxicated and weak, severely depressed or could go into a coma. Death from respiratory failure is also a possibility in severe cases.”
  • Use only pet-safe sunscreen and insect repellant.
  • Keep matches & lighter fluid away from animals.
  • Keep citronella candles and other insect repellant products out of their reach. The chemicals are toxic to dogs and cats. Also, citrus oils are toxic to cats. (Someday I’ll write an article about non-toxic cleaners that are toxic to dogs and cats.)
If this article is helpful & you’re able, please consider sending a thank-you tip/donation. Even small donations will help me keep my business running during the travel industry slump that has brought pet sitting to a screeching halt. Thank you! (FYI, for a sliding scale fee starting at $30, I offer consultations to help people solve their specific cat-related issues. Let me know what I can help you with.)

(Note: I do not accept payment for mentions or reviews of products and services that I write about on this site.)

Select sources

  • American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). “Fourth of July Safety Tips.” 30 June 2007. 25 July 2011.
  • Davis, Kathy Diamond. “Fireworks Phobia.” Veterinary Information Network. Canine Behavior Series. 17 Apr 2004. 29 July 2011.
  • Humane Society of the United States. “Summer Safety: Pets and Fireworks Don’t Mix.” 28 June 2010. 26 July 2011.
  • Kwan, Amanda. “Helping Your Scaredy Cats (And Dogs) Cope With Fireworks.” The Ledger. 13 June 2008. 27 July 2011.
  • Pitcairn, Richard and Pitcairn, Susan. Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide To Natural Health for Dogs & Cats. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Books, 1995.
  • Puotinen, C.J. The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care. New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing, Inc, 1998.
  • Shojai, Amy. New Choices in Natural Healing for Dogs and Cats. New York: Rodale, 1999.

2 comments to Red, Fright, and Blue

  • Maung Weisengruber

    This is one bad effect of celebrating – the noise. Anyway, it’s not an excuse not to be considerate for animals (especially pets) to be endure our means of celebration for their sensitive senses.

  • Allen Gros

    Hey! I loved your post; it’s better than 90% of the other blog posts I read (and I mean it)!

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