The time to plan for fireworks fears or thunderstorm phobias isn’t as it happens. Plan ahead. Plan NOW, to make sure your pets stay calm, safe, and happy. Here’s how.
Noise Fear A Common Problem
Up to 20 percent of dogs fear noises, and pets scared of thunder also fear fireworks. The typical reaction is to hide or run away from scary noises. More pets become lost on July 4th than any other day of the year. Fireworks fears can destroy your fun holiday celebration, when pets panic, break through windows or escape fences. Learn how to find lost pets here.
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. 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.
Even safely contained pets feel worse with each noisy boom. You may not see quivering scaredy cats, but the stress from noise phobia increases risk of hit-or-miss litter box behavior. Find out more about cat fear here. It’s vital to learn how to calm thunder phobias and noise fear in pets.
7 Ways to Calm 4th of July Noise Phobia
There are several ways to help reduce noise and fireworks fears in dogs and also in cats.
- Behavior help with counter conditioning and desensitization
- Happy smells with pheromone therapy
- Comfort clothes that snuggle the pet
- Muffle the noise
- Training & brain games to distract
- Calming supplements
- Antianxiety vet medications
Behavior Help for Dog Fireworks Fears
It can take weeks or even months for desensitization and counter-conditioning techniques to teach fearful pets that noises won’t hurt them. Behaviorists recommend desensitizing pets by exposing them 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. 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.
If you start counter-conditioning your fur-kid as a baby, it can help him stay calm during all kinds of scary noises, from thunderstorms and gunshots to fireworks fears. I’ve done this with both Magical-Dawg, Bravo, and even Karma-Kat. Each time the loud noise caused a “startle” or flinch reflex, I threw a PUPPY-PARTEEEEE! And I’d exclaim, “WOW, WAS THAT LOUD, WHAT FUN!” and treats rained down everywhere.
Happy Smells to Calm Dog Thunder Fear
Comfort Zone with D.A.P. (dog appeasing pheromone) is an analog of the pheromone mom-dogs produce to calm nursing puppies. It calms the fears of dogs of any age, from puppy to aging oldster. 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 comes as a plug-in product, or spray that can be spritzed on a collar or bedding.
The Sentry Calming Collar for cats also employs a pheromone that calms fears in nursing kittens and works on any age cat. Cats also benefit from Comfort Zone with Feliway. That’s an analog of the cheek pheromone that tells cats their environment and territory is “safe.” Feliway also comes as a plug-in or spray. For sensitive cats, getting them “drunk” on catnip or silvervine-type products may help reduce kitty fear.
The nice thing about pheromone products is they won’t “drug” your dog or cat into a magic cure. It instead helps put a damper on fear long enough to “think” so that your behavior modification/training techniques can work. You’ll need to have the pet wear the collar or have the product plugged in for several days in advance for it to offer your dog or cat the best benefits. When the weather report indicates thunder in the offing or fireworks are scheduled, plan ahead with these products.
Comfort Clothes to Calm Dogs Scared of Fireworks
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!
Another option is The Anxiety Wrap that 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. They make these now for cats, too, and the snug vest helps pets calm down during stressful events. Your pet may also benefit from a weighted blanket to snuggle under.
Some dogs benefit from the Storm Defender Cape that reduces static electricity from thunderstorms that prompts some behavior problems. In addition, the Calming Cap seems to help some pups through stressful, anxious situations by hiding their eyes. A new product called The Rein Coat combines 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.
Muffle the Scary Fireworks Noise with Earplugs for Dogs
Cover up the sound with white noise. Use a white noise machine or a radio tuned to static works well.
Play soothing music. Certain types of music can prove calming, by “entraining” the pet’s heart, respiration, and brain waves to slow down and match the soothing rhythm. Harp music has a unique sedative effect on pets because the rhythms and sounds mimic brain waves and help calm the fear. Harp music may prompt you to nap, too. I’m a fan of PetPause.
Earplugs for dogs that mask the sound may also help. My veterinarian 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 earplugs 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. Rebecca Sanchez says CrittEar products work great for her furry wonders!
Earmuffs designed for dogs are another option. Hearing protection for dogs can help, but you will need to get your dog used to wearing such things in advance of the noise.
Calm Fireworks Fears with Training Games
If you engage the doggy brain, your pet won’t be able to think and perform obedience commands and panic at the same time. If he has a special toy, ask him to find the ball, or play fetch. Maybe offer a treat-stuffed puzzle toy to reward your dog for staying calm.
The best option is to prepare weeks or months in advance and counter-condition fearful pets to potentially scary noises so they learn to associate something good—a happy game or car ride—with it instead of fearful feelings.
Engage The Brain
The brain can’t think when in a state of panic. But the opposite holds true as well—when thinking, the brain won’t go nutso and turn your pet into a shrieking escape artist. So just before the fireworks start, drill your dog—or your cat—on favorite commands and tricks with lots of special yummy rewards or games. Continue the games throughout and throw a happy-dance party for him staying calm.
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.
Reduce Noise Phobia With Medication
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 pet’s needs, which may also help with separation anxiety.
Supplements containing CBD oil may prove helpful to reduce fearful behaviors in dogs. Just do your research to be sure the product is safe for your pets. Learn more about CBD oil for pets in this article.
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. It lasts several hours with a cumulative effect over several days. Find products with melatonin in health food stores, pharmacies, and some supermarkets.
Also, I just heard from a company I’ve long respected. Good Good (formerly Comfort Zone) just launched a veterinary-formulated Canine Calming supplement that contains ashwagandha, chamomile, and L-Theanine to support stress. It could make a positive difference for your shivery pup.
Plan ahead for known scary events like 4th of July. Always check with your veterinarian about any new supplements to ensure the proper dosage for your size and breed of dog.
Make It A Safe Holiday!
Whatever you do, be sure that your precious pet stays safe. Bring outdoor pets inside the garage or the house during the July 4th or New Years Eve celebration. Provide a crate or confinement in a pet-proofed room.
Move horses into securely fenced areas—or better—barns that will safely contain a frantic animal without the chance of injury. And just in case, microchip all your precious pets or have other permanent and reliable identification for recovery if they do the desperado dash when the rocket’s red glare fills the sky.
Just as car rides soothe human babies, a road trip may soothe pets that enjoy the car and take their mind off the noise. Just be sure your cat or dog LIKES car rides. Safely secure him in a carrier or restraint in the back seat during the ride.
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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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!