It’s that time again: New Year’s Eve fireworks shows.
Lots of fun for the family, and truly an awe-inspiring sight. But so much noise! It’s enough to drive a pet mad. And sometimes it does.
Unlike us, dogs and cats and other pets have no way of knowing that the deafeningly loud bangs and madly flickering lights of fireworks shows are supposed to be happening, or why. And so they either act out or cower in fear.
Some soil the house, or claw up furniture or the carpet. They may be pacing, whining or even vomiting. All of this is similar to symptoms of an aversion to thunderstorms.
Of course, it doesn’t help that our pets’ sense of hearing is so much more finely tuned than ours. In very extreme cases, a noise-phobic dog might hurl himself through a screen door or even a glass window in an attempt to escape the infernal sound of booming firecrackers.
Is there a way to calm pet anxiety from fireworks? Sure. But it will take some work, and it will help tremendously if you plan ahead.
Let ‘Em Hide
First things first. Your pets will try to hide — so let them. Give them a safe, cozy spot to get away from all the ruckus, where they can feel safe. Behind the couch is a great spot. Lay down a blanket and pad the area with pillows to help drown out the noise. Your pet will thank you.
My cat’s favorite fireworks hiding spot is in the bathroom, right behind the toilet. There are no windows, which works great for her. Sure, it’s weird having those little cat eyes staring up at me as I’m doing my business (and clearly no picnic for her either), but if it makes her feel slightly more comfortable, then so be it.
Other pets prefer closets, the space under beds, even bathtubs.
More Steps You Can Take Right Now
- Walk This Way: Do you have a dog that is noise averse? When the evening of July 4 arrives, take your pooch on an extra, extra long walk before sunset. Two hours in the park might do the trick. The idea is to let your dog run off so freakin’ much energy that the noise bothers him less once the fireworks begin. He’ll be too exhausted to care as much. A miracle cure it’s not; but every little bit helps.
- Seal the Hatch: Close all windows and doors. Doggie doors or cat flaps should be disabled as well. As for rabbits, bring them inside if possible. At the very least, cover your outdoor rabbit hutch with a blanket; also add a few blankets or extra bedding inside for comfort.
- Curtain Call: Draw the curtains inside to help dull the noise.
- White Noise: Run an air conditioner or fan, or put on some soothing background music — classical is great.
- Rescue Remedy: This liquid “natural stress reliever” is a product many pet owners swear by. They say it calms even rabbits. At around $9 per small bottle, it may be worth a shot. Consult your veterinarian first.
- Plug ‘Em Up? I’ve heard anecdotal accounts of people rigging up ear plugs to work with dog ears. I do not recommend this! The risk of something getting stuck in the ears is far too great. Please do not attempt this. If you really think this may be the route for you, I’d suggest checking out a product called Mutt Muffs, which are ear muffs made for dogs. (Sorry, cats — you’re out of luck.) I have my doubts about these comical-looking things, but I’ll let you be the judge. They run around $55.
Why You Shouldn’t Baby Your Pet Too Much
Giving your pet a few treats during the commotion of the fireworks show is fine. But don’t lavish too much attention on your dog or cat. Why? Because this sends the message that you think something’s terribly wrong too. And when your pet senses that you think something’s really, really wrong, this just reinforces the anxiety.
So how should you act? Calm. Like all that noise outside is no biggie.
You should not, however, ignore your pet. And especially don’t punish! Either of those would be insensitive. Instead, acknowledge that, yes, something is amiss. Stroke your dog or cat and offer some comforting words. Give some treats and try to engage the pets in some playtime.
BUT don’t spend all night holding and comforting the pet in your lap. And don’t act like something terrible is happening outside. Keep calm and carry on.
Prevention (The Bigger Picture)
In the future, you may want to consider buying an album of socialization sounds that includes fireworks noise. Your pet will gradually (over a period of weeks or months) get used to hearing these sounds, so when the next big holiday comes around, a fireworks show won’t be as big a deal. It’s an interesting strategy. You can buy an MP3 file for around $20 from Angel Dog. Victoria Stillwell (It’s Me or the Dog) has a training CD for fireworks phobias on sale for $15. Follow the accompanying training manuals.
Anti-anxiety pet medications, as prescribed by your vet, may help — but they take several weeks to kick in. Several pet owners tell me they don’t work well, but that’s something you’d need to discuss with your vet.
One more thing: No two dogs are alike, and not all phobic pets respond to the methods mentioned here. You can’t force your dog, cat or rabbit to stop being afraid of fireworks, gunshots, thunder or other blaring noises. So please be a responsible, caring, patient pet owner, and work with your pet (and veterinarian/trainer/behaviorist if necessary) to find the best way to calm pet anxiety from fireworks. Whatever it takes to make them feel better, right?
Photos, from top: Merritt Boyd and Seriously Photographic (Jim) /Flickr
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