As humans celebrate American Independence by lighting off fireworks, legally or otherwise, the evenings surrounding July 4 can be a stressful ordeal for many pets and owners.
The beginning of July is “by far” the busiest time for intakes of dogs and cats at the Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA, as the animals tend to become frightened, flee from the neighborhoods they know and become lost, PHS spokesman Jack Hagerman said.
“We have to staff up with more staff and extend our hours,” he said. While he estimated that more than half of the lost animals end up reunited with their families thanks to identification tags and microchips, many do not.
Even animals that normally do not show signs of anxiety can become overwhelmed by the loud noises of fireworks, according to the PHS.
“Those are unique circumstances that will create unique reactions,” Hagerman said.
Anxiety in dogs is most often fairly transparent, resulting in behavior like hiding and sticking close to their owners for reassurance.
“They’re reaction typically is to hide,” Hagerman said. “That’s totally normal. It’s best to just let them be.”
In addition to speaking to a veterinarian about tranquilizers or trying over-the-counter sedatives meant specifically for dogs, there are numerous products ranging from calming chew treats and CBD oil to “Thundershirts,” which swaddle dogs in an effort to keep them calm and comfortable.
But every dog is different, Hagerman said. What works for one animal may not work for another, so experimentation may be necessary.
Keeping dogs and cats alike on a steady daily routine can help reduce stress, he said.
He also recommended exercising pets heavily during the day to tire them out when fireworks are anticipated at night.
“If you can make them sleepy, they’re going to be less anxious,” Hagerman said.
Creating background noise by turning up a TV or radio can help drown out the disturbing sounds, he added.
It’s also vital for pet owners to make sure the information stored on their pets’ implanted microchips are up-to-date so they can be contacted if their animal is found, officials said.
Cats suffer fireworks-related anxiety just like dogs, but they tend to show it differently.
“The only thing that’s different is the way that they manifest their anxiety,” Hagerman said. “Cats tend to be more stoic and don’t emote quite as much, but that doesn’t mean they’re not anxious.”
One common behavior displayed by stressed out cats is to urinate in places other than their litter boxes.
Strictly indoor cats, similar to dogs, are best left alone to hide in the home wherever they feel comfortable, Hagerman said.
But cats that venture outdoors risk becoming startled by fireworks and bolting. Unable to determine where the noise is coming from, they may flee until they leave familiar territory and become lost, Hagerman said.
Even cats who regularly spend times outdoors and always return home are more likely to get lost amid fireworks if their “fight or flight” response carries them too far from home,” he said.
The same techniques that help calm dogs and cats may also be useful for smaller mammals, such as rabbits, Hagerman said.
Bird owners may find they can calm anxious avian friends by covering their cages with a blanket.
“It creates a denning experience,” Hagerman said. While the covering won’t so much to block the noise, the dark environment is soothing to birds.
There is little data available on the effects of loud noises in smaller, terrarium-based pets, such as lizards or turtles, Hagerman said. But animals in tanks or cages can easily be relocated to a quieter place inside the home.