More pets are lost on the 4th of July than any other day of the year. I'll never forget the little dog I spotted racing alone the sidewalk of a Chicago neighborhood as I returned home one evening after the fireworks. Fortunately, an off-duty Chicago police officer saw him, too. She and I gathered up the terrified little guy and took him to her station, where he was kept safely in a dog crate until his owner was located and came to claim him.
I know this because I came back the next morning to take the little dog home with me, rather than leave him in the station. The desk officer told me that the man was grateful to find him. He was a purebred worth $1,500.00. No one meant to lose him, but when the fireworks started that night, he bolted from the door and ran out of the yard. While his family was celebrating, he was running for his life - or so he thought.
Now, I admit that I don't get the whole "noisy things are great fun" part of the July 4th celebrations. When I was young, my father and uncle had some near misses with Roman candles and sparklers in the back yard. These days, almost every city, town, and suburb puts on a better show than any of us could hope for as amateurs, and we're far safer for it. Only the goofs and crazies buy their own explosives and risk burns, loss of body parts, and blindness. I'm annoyed by the residual blasts that make me jump out of my skin in the middle of the night, when the drunk neighbors use up the last of their amateur night inventory, so admittedly, I'm not a big fan. But I'm more concerned with the animals in our houses, and the wild ones who are hunkered down in our forest preserves.
Keep Calm and Explain
The noise of fireworks is one of the greatest sources of stress for our pets, and many clients come to me asking how to help them stay calmer and happier. The first thing I tell them is that their attitude and demeanor is critical, since our pets look to us to help them decide if there is danger, or we need protection. If you are worried about your dog or cat panicking when the fireworks begin, you'll crank up the stress level. When you are able to focus on creating a calm environment - breathing slowly, talking softly and soothingly, and stroking your pet lovingly - you are helping condition him or her to adjust to the noise over time.
It also helps to prepare them for what to expect. When we picture what will be happening, and explain it in words, they do understand what will happen. Tell your cat there will be noises after it is dark, but they will only last for a little while, and there is nothing that will hurt him. It is just people having fun. The house will still be safe. You will still be there. The cat may not like hearing the noise, but he knows that it is temporary, and he knows that you aren't afraid.
Have Fun and Distract
You might want to play with your pets during the fireworks. When your dog is chasing the ball, he is focused on the toy and the activity, not the noises. Keep your pets actively doing something they enjoy, and the distraction can keep them focused on you and the game, not the fear of the unknown noises. If they are able to earn their favorite treats for playing the game, even better.
Try Products and Techniques
There are some products that have been helpful. Your vet can certainly prescribe calming medication, and aromatherapists can provide you with essential oils such as lavender, and blends such as Peace & Calming or Valor (from Young Living). A small amount goes a long way, either petted into the fur or diffused into the environment. Using a therapeutic quality product is safe and free of side effects found with many medications.
Your pet's favorite music, blanket, or pillow is also a familiar and comforting part of the environment that helps anchor her when there are unexpected noises outside. The Thundershirt or similar products that wrap the pet and act as acupressure devices that affect nerve pathways. If you don't have one available, try a simple massage technique such as Tellington Touch. Using your fingers or palms, you make a series of clockwise circles along your pet's body. Each circle starts at 6:00 on an imaginary clock, and creates a 1 and 1/4 circle, finishing at 9:00.
Keep Them Inside and Safe
You don't want to lose your pets because they panic and bolt through a door so suddenly that no one notices or can catch them. Ideally, you want to create a "submarine hatch" that closes pets out of the room where the exterior door will be opened. Even better, stay with your pet in a room without doors or windows, such as a walk-in closet, where you can play and cuddle together. Leaving your animals in a house alone is the worst thing you can do, and the surest way to crank up their anxiety. But it's worse to bring them outside, dress them in red, white, and blue outfits, and subject them to possible injury or poisoning from exposure to chaos, noise, and party food.
Be compassionate and generous. Caring for pets poses the same issues as having children - sometimes their needs come before your wants. Don't expect your pets to "get over it" or punish them for their fear. Be part of the solution and, over time, you can help them stay calmer and safer while we celebrate our country's independence, and our individual freedom to make noise and act like goofs. Your relationship with your pets will improve and their love for you will grow - and that's worth the effort.
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