Tips for Helping Your Pets Cope with Fireworks (or Thunder Storms)
For many people, the Fourth of July holiday means getting together with family and friends for pot lucks and barbecues, setting up the slip and slide or wading pool in the back yard for the kids, and then watching fireworks (or setting off your own) after dark.
Despite their popularity, not everyone enjoys the loud fireworks shows. The fireworks can scare animals (both pets and wildlife) and set off people with PTSD (including veterans). Then there are the folks that don't like to stay up late or those with young children. It can be really hard to sleep when your neighbors are setting off fireworks at all hours of the day and night (and try explaining to an infant that the scary booms are okay-- let alone getting them to fall back to sleep).
My seven year old Labrador Retriever is terrified of fireworks. Unfortunately, our house is located up the hill from a large body of water where our city hosts their annual Fourth of July fireworks celebration. We're so close that the bigger booms make our walls and floor shake. And, due to the good views, a lot of people come to our neighborhood every year to see the fireworks show. Since fireworks are legal in our state, many of these people bring their own fireworks and noisemakers to set off while they wait for it to get dark enough for the show. This means that every year, I spend several hours both before and after the city's fireworks show trying to calm down my terrified dog and reassure her that everything is okay.
I like that the city's fireworks show is predictable. Every year, the show starts at ten o'clock at night and lasts twenty-five to thirty minutes. The predictable schedule gives me time to prepare and try to make things more comfortable for my dog (and cats-- although they aren't as bothered by the noise). However, the fireworks that members of the community purchase to set off themselves are not predictable. They usually start selling them about a month before the holiday-- which means weeks of unexpected booms and bright lights at all hours of the day.
Fortunately, there are some things that those of us with pets can do to try to make the fireworks season a little easier for our scared pets.
Keep Them Inside & Supervised
First, if your community has a scheduled fireworks show, make sure that you keep your animals safe inside your home during that time period. I've heard a lot of heartbreaking stories about terrified animals (usually dogs) trying to run away from the explosions and getting injured or killed in the process. So, if you know that someone will be setting off fireworks at a certain time, please keep your animals inside.
If you live in a state where it's legal for members of the community to purchase and set off their own fireworks then you won't be able to prepare in advance for them. However, there are two times of year when people tend to set off fireworks-- the week or so leading up to and after the Fourth of July and New Years holidays. During these times of the year, I always go outside with my dog and keep her within sight. If I hear a firework going off then I immediately call her and get her inside the house as quickly as possible.
Thundershirts & Pet Wraps
A "thunder shirt" is a tight fitting shirt for dogs. It works sort-of like swaddling a baby. The snug fitting fabric can help calm a nervous dog. As the name implies, the shirts can be used to calm dogs during thunder storms or fireworks shows.
The official "thunder shirts" are copyrighted, and sold by the Thunderworks company (www.thundershirt.com). The shirts sell for around $40 (depending on size).
However, if you can't afford to purchase one, then do an online search for a "therapeutic pet wrap." There are numerous tutorials available online that can show you how to use a scarf instead. The tutorials will show you how to properly wrap the scarf around your dog to achieve similar results to the "thunder shirts."
Make a Den
When my dog is scared, she often hides in my closet or bathroom. Both rooms are small and den-like. Although they were domesticated thousands of years ago, dogs have held onto some of their ancestral instincts. Dens (and den-like rooms) make them feel safer. During the fireworks season (or during thunder storms), I'll place a few blankets on the floor in the closet and bathroom. I also close all of the windows and blinds. The result is a small, cozy space where my dog can hide out until the scary fireworks or thunder stops.
Turn on the TV or Radio
Another trick that I like to use is to turn on a television or radio in my bedroom (since my dog usually hides in my closet). The sounds from the television or radio can help mask the sounds of the fireworks. I'll often leave the radio on for several hours after our city fireworks show-- to help mask the sounds of the smaller fireworks that are set off by my neighbors.
If all of the above tips aren't enough to help calm down your dog (or other pet) then you might want to speak to your vet about medicating them. I haven't tried this option myself, but I have friends who have done so with good results. The important thing is to get professional advice about what medication to use and the correct dosage for your pet.
Lots of Snuggles
For me, the main thing is to make sure that my dog and cats feel safe. It's unfortunate that our house is so close to the location where our city hosts its annual Fourth of July fireworks celebration. I did try taking my dog to visit a friend one year. Unfortunately, even though we were away from the "big show" there were still individuals setting off small fireworks in my friend's neighborhood. My dog was actually more afraid of the small fireworks while staying with my friend (and being in an unfamiliar place) then she was at home. The sad fact is that it's hard to avoid fireworks altogether on certain holidays. Since then, we have remained home, where my dog feels the safest.
As we prepare for our city's annual fireworks show each year, I do all of the above tips (except for medication): I set up blankets in both my closest and bathroom (my dog often paces back and forth between the two spaces), I put on her thundershirt, I turn on the radio, and then I sit with her. I often sit on the floor of the closet with a book-- one hand petting my dog and one hand holding the book. I'll talk to her in a soothing voice, but I try not to "freak out" too much or make too much of a big deal about the noises outside. Since sitting with a book is something that I do regularly, it helps me convince my dog that things are okay. Sitting with a book (and my dog) is normal.
Often, the thing that brings her the most comfort is simply sitting with her favorite people. So, don't forget to give your pets extra snuggles during scary fireworks shows or thunder storms!
I hope that you'll find these tips helpful. The most important thing is to remember to remain patient. Your dog isn't freaking out on purpose. To them, a big explosion and bright lights in the sky are a bad thing. To them the booms signal danger. So, please, be patient with them and do what you can to help them calm down and realize that everything really is okay.
Is your pet afraid of fireworks?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.