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Pets and fireworks
Pets and fireworks: Keep your pets safe this July 4th holiday.

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Some dogs don’t care about Fourth of July fireworks, others express mild distress, while still other poor souls are absolutely terrified. In general, cats don’t seem to have as many issues with the big bangs associated with the holiday. Still, some do become frightened. Often cats (and some dogs) will simply find a safe place to “hide out,” such as under a bed, in a corner of the closet or even in the bathtub. My advice is to leave them there until it’s over.

A dog with mild distress might simply be spending several hours in the basement or in a room where you can close the door, close the blinds and turn on the stereo. Preventing the sight and sounds of fireworks may help, but depending on where your house is – drowning them out might not work. And some dogs will become distressed just hearing one bang from a single firework, as they anxiously await the next bang.

Before attempting any behavior modification and/or anti-anxiety drug plan to deal with fireworks anxiety – talk with your veterinarian.


If you have patience and take the time (a few weeks to a month or so), you can try implementing a program of desensitization and counter-conditioning, which might dramatically help or even “cure” some dogs.

Here’s what you do: Play a CD of fireworks sounds (they’re available online; one free audio download is at Begin by playing the fireworks sounds at a barely audible level while simultaneously having fun with your dog.

Play it throughout the day so the sounds become a part of the daily environment, just as the sounds of cars honking their horns or the sound of the toilet flushing are.

Also, play the CD during mealtime, again at first at a barely audible level. Remember, most dogs hear much better than we do – which is a part of the reason they are so scared in the first place. As loud as fireworks sound to us, to dogs the big bangs must sound like explosions in their heads.

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Over time, gradually increase the volume of the fireworks sounds. If your dog reacts, you’ve turned up the volume too fast, so dial it down a bit. Each time you increase the volume, distract your dog with play. Ultimately, your goal is for your dog to associate the fireworks with a positive experience (like play or eating), and for the dog to accept the sound as a part of the daily environment.

Storm Defender, Anxiety Wrap and Thundershirt.

Each of these provides a tight-fitting outfit for the dog to wear. This feeling of comfort is supposed to help the dogs. Dogs wearing the Storm Defender resemble a super hero wearing a bright red cape. Also, the manufacturer says the product reduces static electricity in the air, which helps dogs who may also have thunderstorm anxiety. The Anxiety Wrap purports to calm dogs because it provides acupressure.

The Calming Cap.

A hood fitting over the dog’s head is designed to lessen anxiety or aggression in high-stress situations. The cap’s sheer fabric makes the dog's vision indistinct, which reduces the visual stimulus and enables the dog to perhaps remain calm.

Dog Appeasing Pheromone.

Released from a dog collar or a plug-in diffuser – this mimics the ‘appeasing pheromone’ naturally produced by lactating mother dogs to comfort and reassure their offspring.

Ear plugs.

Human earplugs can be used to muffle sounds, though not appropriate for all dogs – see your veterinarian.


Dogs can’t be so anxious if their brain is focused on something else. If you can convince your dog to play a game of fetch or roll around a toy to get treats out, your dog will be unlikely simultaneously go into full panic mode.

Anti-anxiety drugs.

The tools listed above help many dogs, but others are just so terrified that the most humane solution is anti-anxiety drugs. The specific drug might vary from dog to dog (based on several factors). Most veterinary behaviorists that I know suggest alprazolam (Xanax) for either thunderstorm or fireworks anxiety. Again, though, there are several choices. And, what works in one pet might not be as effective in another. An herbal calming agent, such as Rescue Remedy, might be another option.

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Other July 4 dangers.

I am never a proponent of the backyard substituting as a baby sitter. In the summer, dogs can overheat. Dogs get bored languishing in yards and develop bad habits, which may include digging under fences or jumping over them; digging at the garden or barking at passersby. However, when they are terrified pets may be determined to get out. More pets are lost around July 4 than at any other time of the year. Sometimes scared dogs jump fences, even break through electronic fencing, which otherwise contain them. Even in homes, dogs and cats are more likely to make a break through an open door.

Prevention is key, of course. However, this is also a reminder that pets require identification. ID tags (a collar and tag) are a good idea (and typically required) for dogs, and an equally smart thing to do for cats. However, the only permanent kind of identification is microchipping. Be sure to register with the microchip provider (and maintain that information so it’s up to date), so when a lost pet is scanned the information is provided about how to reach the owners.

Under the heading of “I’m not a fan,” tying down or tethering dogs can cause all sorts of bad behavior issues. Each year, around July Fourth, I receive reports of dogs who have choked themselves to death on their chains as they desperately attempt to escape the fireworks noise.

Here’s hoping your pets get thru the holiday safe and sound. Happy 4th!

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Contributing editor Steve Dale is a certified dog and cat behavior consultant. He writes a twice-weekly syndicated newspaper column and is the host of two syndicated radio shows. Most recently he is the author of two e-books that answer common (and some not-so-common) pet-behavior problems, Good Dog! and Good Cat! (available wherever e-books are sold).