Prepare Your Pet
If you know fireworks will be set off nearby in the near future, your dog or cat (or rabbit or hamster) might benefit from gradually being desensitized to them. Playing recordings of fireworks or thunderstorms at increasing volumes in the weeks leading up to the festivities might help normalize the experience. This can be particularly helpful if your pet is exposed to such noises at a young age.
“It can be very helpful during the socialization period of young puppies and kittens to present them with many different environmental stimuli so that this is not scary later in life,” Bierbrier says.
Not all pets react to fireworks or other loud noises in the same way, and some don’t react at all. “If a dog or cat exhibits anxiety over new people in the home, to noises or bright light displays, or is an anxious or nervous pet in general, there is a strong possibility they will also be more susceptible to having anxiety during the Fourth of July fireworks displays,” Dr. Heidi Houchen of VCA Northwest Veterinary Specialists in Oregon says.
Pets can also start exhibiting these issues at any time, so Houchen recommends that owners always watch for signs of distress (panting, pacing, hiding, barking, shaking and other signs of agitation) and discuss with their veterinarians ahead of time ways they can help their pets.
Other proactive steps might include making sure your pet has had plenty of exercise before the event, so he or she is a little more tired out and doesn’t have extra energy to express, and keeping things as routine as possible at home.
Have a Safe Space Ready
All three veterinarians we spoke with stressed the importance of not taking a pet to a fireworks show. “They will be safer, calmer and more comfortable in a quiet, familiar space,” Bierbrier says. If someone is able to be home with the anxious animal during the fireworks, that’s ideal.
Pets experiencing a fight-or-flight response may try to find a place to run away to, so having a secure area of your house “as far away from the noise and smells as possible” for them to hide in can help, Dr. Patty Khuly of Miami’s Sunset Animal Clinic says. That might mean placing a favorite blanket or toy in the animal’s crate if that’s a comforting place (though some pets might become frantic and destroy a crate in this situation) or keeping the animal in a cool, quiet part of your home, such as a bedroom or basement.
Set a Calming Mood
In addition to having a human present, calming elements such as a chattering TV, music or air conditioning might help pets relax. Specialized recordings such as the Through a Dog’s Ear products help calm some anxious animals, Khuly says, but just having some distracting background noise can also make a difference.
Other products designed to relieve anxiety, such as swaddle-style vests or pet-mimicking pheromone collars, might help some pets as well, though the vets noted that essential oils and diffusers can be toxic to pets (cats especially). Owners should speak with a veterinarian before trying a new calming approach and continue monitoring their animals’ individual reaction. In some extreme cases, anti-anxiety medication may be prescribed.
Watch for Escape Artists
One of the biggest dangers of fireworks is that they can provoke frightened animals to try to run away. The Washington Post and other news outlets have reported an annual uptick in animal shelter intakes immediately following the Fourth of July, and the vets we spoke to reported similar experiences.
Houchen cited instances of pets running into the street and getting hit by cars, jumping out windows or crashing through sliding glass doors during fireworks.
“Bring outside pets inside a home, garage or place that is safe, quiet, has no sharp objects or sharp-edged furniture,” she advises. “Keep pets inside in a quiet, dark area with limited access to windows or other potential hazards.” Even if the pet is indoors, play it safe by making sure it has a collar, microchip and ID tag with up-to-date contact information in case it somehow manages to get out.
Look Out for Other Scary Summer Sounds
Similar calming measures can work for thunderstorms and other potentially upsetting light and noise events, though some pets react differently to fireworks than they do to thunderstorms. Storms, for instance, might occur more often and without warning, so veterinarians may suggest focusing more on behavior modification to treat that specific phobia.
Again, monitoring a pet in both situations and working with your vet to be prepared and respond to your animal’s specific reaction is key. “An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure,” Houchen says, “or a tragic and expensive trip to the veterinary emergency room.”
Be Aware of Other Fireworks Dangers
Beyond scaring pets, fireworks’ presence in the home or garage — or leftover shells at a park — can also pose a hazard. “Fireworks in shiny packages can look like an appetizing snack and, if eaten, can cause even more chaos once inside an animal,” Houchen says. “As most fireworks are made overseas, getting an exact ingredient list of what is in each firework is often not possible. Also, spent fireworks, if ingested, can pose as much of a danger as the new ones.” Ingestion of fireworks can cause nausea, vomiting and ulceration of the mouth or GI tract, as well as organ damage, respiratory problems and other issues. An animal that swallows fireworks should be treated by a vet immediately.