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Steps to ease a panicked pet on Independence Day

A dog holds an American flag in its mouth in front of a fireplace.
Vibrations, noise, and bright lights from fireworks cause anxiety that can be traumatic for pets, often forcing animals into hiding, or worse, running away from their backyard and onto the long list of missing pets.

PULLMAN, Wash. — Vibrations, noise and bright lights from fireworks cause anxiety that can be traumatic for pets, often forcing animals into hiding, or worse, running away from their backyard and onto the long list of missing pets.

This holiday, there are a few things owners can do to alleviate their animal’s stress. It starts with being ready well before the holiday — and the loud booms — arrive.

“Even if you don’t use fireworks, your neighbors probably will, so it is important to be prepared, and it is difficult to prepare on July 3,” said Dr. Cassidy Cordon, a veterinarian at Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Dogs can be hypersensitive to noise and vibrations from fireworks and other explosions. Cordon said the first thing owners should do is find an appropriate, confined, comfortable space where their pet feels safe.

“It could be their crate or in the bedroom with their owner; for many animals, their safe space is under a bed or another piece of furniture,” Cordon said. “We have to remember that dogs are den animals, and their instinct is to find a safe space they can get through the night.”

An attentive owner can help determine just how comfortable an animal is in its safe space. Often, having background noise, such as fans or music, to drown out the sound of fireworks is helpful. Some dogs and cats can also be destructive when they are anxious, which can lead to injuries or property damage. This can be resolved with special toys to keep them occupied. 

Cordon recommends owners keep anxious animals on a leash when outside during the days leading up to the holiday, as some people tend to light fireworks early, often causing pets to flee from fenced-in yards or bolt from parks. Giving pets more opportunities to relieve themselves earlier during the day by taking them for an extra-long walk or hike in the mornings has the added benefit of tiring your pet and encouraging them to sleep during the fireworks. 

“The fewer times a stressed animal is taken outside during fireworks, the better,” Cordon said. “Every trip outside can be traumatic, and each trip carries the risk of an animal running away.”

Cordon would recommend not taking dogs to fireworks shows, especially younger dogs or dogs of owners who may be unaware of how a dog may react.

Ensuring pet tags are up to date is critical.

“A 30-second check of your animal’s tags could be all that is needed to avoid a panicked hours-long search,” Cordon said.

For those animals who have extreme reactions to fireworks, thunder coats may be effective for some dogs and cats. Veterinarian-prescribed anxiety medications and mild sedatives are also an option for pets that have had an annual physical exam. Some over-the-counter treats are designed to reduce anxiety as well. Working with a veterinarian throughout the year to reduce pets’ noise phobias with behavior modification and training can reduce their anxiety and limit the need for some of these therapies.

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