I’ve written about dogs fireworks fears and thunder phobias before, but cats are not immune. Felines also may turn into scaredy cats especially during 4th of July celebrations. If we’re lucky, the shakes and trembles only last a short time, but all too often these terrified pets lose their homes.
How Common Is Fireworks Fears?
Up to 20 percent of dogs suffer from noise phobias like unexpected storms, but with 4th of July fireworks celebrations, owners can predict events and take steps to sooth upset doggy feelings. According to PetHub, July 5th is the busiest day of the year for animal shelters across the US because dogs and cats become terrified and run away–and very few find their way home.
The ASPCA offers a free mobile ap to help find lost pets, check it out here. It includes a digital lost pet kit that walks you through finding your missing fur kid. They also provided this neato infographic to help us keep in mind some of the major summer pet dangers, including pet heat stroke and car dangers.
I’ve got my furry wonders microchipped, and they wear tags on their collars. But in order to be found, the pet has to be willing to come to a stranger–Magic wouldn’t do it. Karma-Kat might, but Seren would rather eat dirt.
Terrified pets don’t think. That part of the brain shuts off during panic, and cats may dash through doors or scale fences. Frantic pups pull down window blinds, collide with screen doors or crash through windows, while others simply shiver and moan.
Solving Thunder and Fireworks Fears
Behaviorists recommend dogs be counter-conditioned to the scary noises like thunder by exposing the fearful dog to recorded sounds of the scary noise played at a very low volume, and rewarding him for staying calm. Gradually, you increase the noise level, to help the pup “get used” to the noise–desensitize him–so he can learn to tolerate it.
Densitization programs for fireworks fears and storm phobias are not particularly realistic for most pet people, though, because desensitization programs can take weeks and sometimes months to work. Pets suffering from storm phobias also may react to the sounds of rain. Even the sensation of humidity or barometric pressure can trigger behavior problems, and you can’t do much to control humidity or barometric pressure. Use these 11 tips to dial down the noisy fear factor.
11 Fireworks Fears Tips for Soothing Noise Phobias
- Fearful cats and dogs may instinctively look for tight-fitting cave-like places to hide. They often squeeze between furniture and the wall, and dogs try to hide their eyes in your armpit. This applies a comfortable “hug” pressure sensation that seems to calm them, so let your pet seek his own shelter. If kitty dives under the bed, leave her alone. Shut the door and be grateful she’s not outside running for the next county!
- Avoid offering sympathy. Coddling your pup when he’s fearful can reward the behavior. Instead of saying, “poor baby are you scared?” use a matter of fact tone, “wow, that was a loud noise and made me jump, too–but we aren’t scared.”
- Dress ’em up. Some puppies benefit from the Storm Defender Capereduces static electricity that prompts some behavior problems. Another option is the The Anxiety Wrapthat applies even pressure to the dog’s body and helps him better manage his stress. A similar product for both cats and dogs that applies pressure is the Thundershirt Jacket for Anxiety. In addition, the Calming Capseems to help some pups through stressful, anxious situations by hiding their eyes. A new product called The Rein Coatcombines a harness, rain-shedding properties and calming relief for anxiety, fear and aggression and fits dogs (and cats) from 5 pounds to 250 pounds. Because each Rein Coat is custom fitted, it’s a bit pricier than other options. Your pet may also benefit from a weighted blanket to snuggle under.
- Avoid giving your dog or cat a sedative, because it won’t reduce his fear. He just won’t be able to do anything about it, which can make his anxiety even worse. Your vet may prescribe anti-anxiety medication based on your individual pup’s needs which may also help with separation anxiety.
- Ear plugs that mask the sound may also help. My veterinarian Dr. John Brakebill once told me that when a client’s dog went crazy after they moved near a gun range, the phobia calmed during treatment for an ear infection because the thick ointment muffled the sound. He suggests cotton balls or ear plugs as a temporary solution to help muffle the noise. Ask your vet to show you how to safely place anything in the dog’s ears, though, so you don’t damage the pup’s hearing and plugs are easily removed after the upsetting sounds subside. I wouldn’t attempt this with cats, though.
- A natural supplement of melatonin may help–a substance similar to a chemical produced in the brain that helps regulate sleep. Melatonin helps reduce the panic attacks in noise-phobic dogs, but it won’t sedate the pup. Melatonin lasts several hours and may be cumulative over several days so you can plan ahead for known scary events like 4th of July. Melatonin can be found in health food stores, pharmacies, and some supermarkets. Always check with your veterinarian for the proper dosage for your size and breed of dog.
- Another option includes Comfort Zone with DAP (dog appeasing pheromone). The product is an analogue of the pheromone mom-dogs produce to calm nursing puppies that signal him “don’t worry, there’s nothing to fear.” Pheromones are chemical substances made by the animal’s body that act as a form of communication that, when inhaled by your dog, talks directly to his brain. It calms the fears of dogs of any age. D.A.P. plug-in, sprays, and infused collars are available at pet products stores. It helps a dog put a damper on fear long enough to “think” so that your behavior modification/training techniques can work. You’ll need to have the D.A.P. plugged in for several days in advance for it to offer your dog the best benefits. So when the weather report indicates storms or fireworks displays are in the offing, be prepared. The infused collar works more immediately. The spray can be used every one to two hours on bedding or a bandanna the dog wears.
- Dogs can’t panic when using their brain for something else such as “work” so give your dog a job to do just before and during the thunder and lightning display. Drill him on obedience commands and special tricks, or ask him to play fetch and carry around a favorite toy. That engages his brain into productive activity rather than thinking about the scary noises.
- Try offering your cats some catnip to help take their mind off the scary noises.
- Giving your pet treats and positive rewards for remaining calm also reinforces the benefits of controlling his emotions. Each time the wind blows, or thunder booms, try saying, “Wow, what fun!” to jolly him along and show there’s no reason to fear, and then give a treat. When Magic was a baby, I threw him a party with each thunder BOOM! so he began to associate the sound with good stuff.
- Turn a radio to static to create white noise that muffles scary noises. Certain types of music can prove calming, too, by “entraining” the pet’s heart, respiration and brain waves to slow down and match the soothing rhythm. Harp music can be especially calming.
Do your dogs — or cats — become terrified over fireworks or storms? How do you manage the problem? What has worked for your pets? I hope you’ve never lost a dog or cat but if you have, what steps did you use to be reunited? Please share–it could save somebody else heartache.
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