A Veterinarian Reveals 7 Simple Ways to Keep Your Pets Calm During Fireworks

updated Jul 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Before you fire up the grill on the Fourth of July, make sure your pet is taken care of. You know the drill: The fireworks start, and your pup starts pacing, panting, hiding, barking and panicking. How can you make him feel safe?

Reminder: Your dog can hear way better than you can. Not just better—but he or she can hear more. “Dogs have 18 muscles in their ears that allow them to pinpoint sound at a much longer distance,” explains Carly Fox, a staff doctor in Emergency and Critical Care at AMCNY. “They can hear up to four times the distance, and they can hear higher-pitched and higher frequency sounds compared to humans.” And while you understand that fireworks are par for the course, they don’t have the ability to rationalize where the loud noise is coming from. Plus, their super-hearing allows them to hear displays going off miles away—what may sound like a faint firework show could sound very close to them.

There are a few other factors that affect dogs’ sensitivities to noise. In 2015, two scientists in Norway looked at 17 dog breeds to determine what factors most affected their fear of loud noises. They tested the breeds against thunderstorms, traffic, fireworks, and other “loud noises.” They found that certain breeds—including Wheaten Terriers—were more sensitive to noise than others. Great Danes were far less fearful of noises. They also found that older dogs and female dogs both experienced greater sensitivity. So if you’re a new pup-owner, and/or your dog fits any of these categories, it’s best to be prepared.

We tend to worry most about dogs, but our other pets need care too. Dr. Fox explains that because cats are such good hiders and less social, we tend to think they’re okay during fireworks, but those may be signals that they’re scared, too.

(Image credit: Emma Fiala)

Whether you’re traveling for the holiday or staying local, there are a few things you can do to keep your pets safe and happy:

Make sure your animal has easy access to a safe space

This means bringing along a travel crate if you’re visiting a friend’s house, or simply making sure their favorite spot at home is clean and accessible to them. For small pets, like hamsters, rabbits, and guinea pigs, Fox suggests putting a sheet over their cage or ensuring they have some kind of safe enclosure they can escape to. “Those animals are ‘prey species,’ so they’re so sensitive to noise,” Fox says.

Stay home if you can

If you have a pet that’s particularly sensitive to noise and there’s no way to isolate them from the sound, it’s best to stay home with them. “That’s the best thing,” says Dr. Fox. “Be home for them so that they have you there and aren’t frantically looking for you.”

Create white noise in the house

Anything you can do to dull the noise is helpful. Turn on a white noise machine (or a white noise app), the TV, music, or even a fan to help diffuse the sound and make it less startling for the pet.

Keep them distracted

If your dog or cat has a favorite toy or treat that keeps them occupied—like this one—make sure it’s fully stocked with peanut butter or their other favorite snack to occupy them during the display. This is an especially good tactic for those bringing their pets on the road for the holiday. If they’re in a new place, it’s helpful to surround them with some familiar toys and items that remind them and smell of home.

Try a “thunder shirt”

These tight-fitting vests are made for dogs and cats who are afraid of storms, but Fox says it will work for fireworks too. “It provides constant pressure on the animal’s thorax and is shown to alleviate anxiety,” she explains.

Plug in a diffuser

Did you know that there are certain scents that may calm your pet down? Fox has special plug-in diffusers for her dog and cat—they release pheromones and “odorless messages” that provide signals your pet is safe. She recommends Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats.

Make sure your pet is properly identified

“We see the most lost animals during this holiday,” says Fox. “They go missing because they get scared and start to run.” Make sure your pet’s collar is up to date and easily readable, and it’s always recommended to microchip your pet.