We can’t wait until dazzling colors burst forth from a blackened canvas of the night sky. Our anticipation builds with each ssssss and whizzzz heard as firecrackers rocket higher exploding in loud bangs and pops a moment before sparkling colors rain down. July 4th is the first big celebration of summer. We look forward to picnics, days at the lake hanging out on the water, picnics, and glorious fireworks celebrations.
We associate the sudden loud bang of fireworks with our countries freedom and celebrations surrounded by family, but our pets are often confused and scared by all the explosions, weird noises, and smell of smoke. While we are “OOOing” and “AAHHHHing” our pets are likely thinking the world is ending.
The sounds and smells assault animals’ keen senses. Quiet neighborhoods where pets are accustomed to hearing people talking, kids laughing, birds singing, and vehicles traveling down the street are suddenly filled with near deafening sounds, odd chemical smells, and bizarre lights in the sky. Pets must think that an alien army descended to engage us in battle just outside the front door.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASCPA) states that one in five pets are scared of loud noises. The pet pullulation of the US includes approximately 80 million pet dogs, 60 million pet cats, 7 million birds, and 2 million horses. Fireworks celebrations may frighten over 30 million of animals.
Animals see the world differently
Animals don’t view the world as we do. As humans we use mostly sight to figure out what is going on. Animals combine information from all their senses to interpret the world. Their senses are more precise, noises are louder and scents are stronger.
That cloud of smoke hanging in the air that smells like a backyard BBQ gone wrong probably smells like the whole neighborhood is on fire to our pets. The burning smell might be a bit concerning, but it’s the sounds of fireworks that cause animals to panic.
Puppies and kittens develop hearing at around 21 days old. Dogs and cats hear higher-pitched noises that our ears don’t even pick up, and their hearing is four times as sensitive. I wonder what the high-pitched whistle as fireworks make their way skyward sounds like to a dog?
Animals have very few defenses against things that frighten them. Run, hide, or fight are their only choices. More often than not, when pets are frightened, they run.
Exploding, whizzing, and whirring fireworks can startle us; imagine what it would sound like four times louder. It would be like standing near a speaker during a war movie. No wonder pets are scared.
Did you know that the 4th of July is the most active holiday at animal shelters? Because this holiday is intensely frightened to pets causing them to panic, more pets are lost this weekend than any other during the year. Shelter workers plan for a large influx of stray animals, but we also can plan ahead to help ensure our pets don’t become a statistic.
Precautions to keep pets safe
- Here are a few tips to keep your pet safe:
- Cars are not safe places for your pet to wait out celebrations
- Leave pets at home during celebrations
- House your pets in an interior room
- Close windows and turn on white noise to ease their anxiety – tv, radio, fan
- Lights turned on will decrease the burst of light that frighten some pets
- Crate trained pets may feel safer in their crate
- Try distracting concerned pets with toys or their favorite chew toy
- Do not leave your dog unattended outside, even in a fenced yard or dog kennel
- Feed pets earlier in the day and walk them on a leash before dark
- Ensure pets has a collar properly fitted with current contact information
- Microchips can provide an extra layer of protection. Make sure your pet’s microchip is working by asking your vet to scan the chip. The contact information listed with the microchip company needs to kept current
Antianxiety vests help some pets ie Thundershirt
Antianxiety medications are also an option for pets that are extremely sensitive to noise. Seek advice from your veterinarian.
House cats will benefit from the same safety precautions as dogs. Cats typically seek out a place to hide. You can provide outside cats safe options such as a dog house, garage, shed, or barn.
Livestock can also be affected by firework, horses, cattle, sheep, goats all run when frightened. Gathering animals inside a barn will muffle the noise some, if the animals are used to being inside that might be the best option. Ensure the livestock fencing is secure and gates are latched before dark, as this will provide some extra security.
Pets that are worried or scared often pace and pant. Some hide; others are so anxious they scratch, claw, or bite at walls, doors, or windows. If possible, at least one person staying home with pets can provide comfort for them and peace of mind for the family.
Pets are experts at picking up on our moods, so acting as normal as possible will help ease anxiety. You don’t want to reward anxious behavior by cuddling or babying your pet; distracting them with a chew toy or special treat like a Kong that has peanut butter smeared inside may help to direct their attention away from noises.
The National Council on Pet Population estimates that only 2% of lost cats and 15 – 20% of lost dogs are reunited with their family if they are not wearing ID or do not have a microchip. Ensuring collars and microchips have current contact information drastically increases the chances of lost pets returning home.
If pets are lost
If your pet does go missing, notify all animal clinics, shelters, emergency hospitals, and even local police stations. Check back with shelters and pet rescue groups daily. Put up posters, reach out to neighbors, radio stations, Craig’s List, and use social media to let others know your pet is missing.
If your pet is microchipped, contact the company. Many microchip companies have protocols in place to get the word out. Also, make sure you expand your search further than your immediate area. Animals that are frightened can travel many miles in a short amount of time. It’s not unusual for people to pick up stray animals and transport them to shelters closer to their home which might be out of state.
A few more celebrations precautions
Our celebrations often involve food. Where there is food, there are leftovers and trash. One of the most common reasons for visiting veterinary emergency clinics is pets with intestinal upsets. Pets may stop eating, vomit, or have diarrhea when they ingest something they shouldn’t have eaten.
Any food with cooked bones and other things like corn on the cob can be bad news for pets since neither cooked bones nor cob digests well. Bones can lodge in animal’s mouths or throats. Pets are curious and can swallow nonfood items than can lead to trouble as well.
Cats in particular, get themselves into trouble playing with string and ribbon. They begin playing, then the string gets in their mouth, it can wrap around their teeth or tongue, or they can swallow some. Picking up any items left from celebrations and placing them in the trash where animals can’t get into them will prevent medical complications.
Understanding that pets see the world a bit differently than we do and taking precautions to help ensure their safety will enable you and your entire family to enjoy the 4th of July.