The 4th of July is the most American of holidays. No matter what your race, creed, gender or preference in style of BBQ, Americans revel in this high-summer holiday that entails food, family, friends and fireworks. But there are members of many families for whom the fireworks aren’t quite so celebratory.
While the rest of us are “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing” to colorful explosions in the sky, the family dog or cat might be cowering in fright under the picnic table, behind the cooler, or it may bolt out the window in a panic.
Animal trainer and behaviorist Michael Chill says that while animals hear the bangs and pops of firecrackers the same way humans do, they lack the ability to understand where the sounds are coming from, which leads to adrenalized fear triggering their inherent fight-or-flight response.
"They don't have the time in nature to think and deduce what a problem might be and whether its a threat or not, the simply start to run," said Chill. "These sounds can actually terrify them because there's no logical basis for it from their perspective."
While it may not be possible to prevent your furry or feathered friends from being spooked by fireworks, there are methods you can employ to lessen their panic. Chill says the most important thing is to not leave your pet alone, especially if you are not sure how it will react.
"My advice nowadays is to put your dogs into fiberglass crates … where they can be in an interior room as far away from windows as possible, that way no matter what occurs they can't escape no matter how panicked they might become," said Chill. "With cats you can use a crate which is safe … or I would allow the cat to run into the closet when they get panicked so they can be away from the sound and the smell of the fireworks."
Alternatively, your vet can prescribe a safe sedative for your pet, but this should only be used in extreme cases or if you can't be home to monitor them. "If you have no choice but to leave or you have a dog so adrenalized and so panicked that even your being there may not calm them down enough, then yes, call your vet today and he can prescribe a very safe tranquilizer or sedative."
Some people have tried using "thunder shirts" — tight-fitting shirts that are supposed to make a dog feel cradled and safe during a thunder storm or when separated from their owners — but Chill says the feedback he's heard has not been overwhelmingly positive.
The important thing to remember is that you can't predict how your pet will react to fireworks. A dog or cat may be fine one year, but something can trigger a negative response the next year. As an owner you must be prepared for anything.
"The absolute adrenalized panic that the 4th of July can induce in our pets is something that I have seen and never want to see again, but it is heart-wrenching. It's not just fear, it's a total breakdown total panic."
How do you help your pets cope with the stress of America’s loudest holiday? How can there be more pet owner awareness on the topic?
Michael Chill, Dog behaviorist and animal trainer