While July 4th celebrations can be tons of fun for us humans, the loud bangs and other fireworks noises can be downright terrifying for many dogs.
Even dogs who don't suffer from thunderstorm phobia or other noise aversions can become stressed by all the hubbub and flashing lights in the sky.
Dogs may show anxiety or stress in a variety of different ways. Pay attention and learn to recognize these signs for what they may mean.
Signs of stress in dogs can include: panting, trembling, drooling, pacing, hiding, trying to escape, decreased appetite, potty accidents, dilated pupils or wide eyes, and whining or barking.
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to help your dog through the fireworks and lessen their stress and anxiety. Let's look at things you can do ahead of time to prepare your dog, as well as things you can do on the actual day of July 4th to lessen their stress!
I sat down with Dr. Stephanie Austin to talk about canine noise anxiety, fear of fireworks, and what you can start doing ASAP to prepare for the 4th of July:
Anxiety Medication & Supplements
Fireworks Desensitization Training
Desensitizing Your Cat to Fireworks
Create a Safe Space for Your Dog
Make Sure Your Dog is Microchipped (and Registered)
Do a Perimeter Check
4th of July "Day-of" Tips
Planning Ahead for Your Dog's July Fourth
Speak with Your Veterinarian Early about Anxiety Medication and Supplements
There is a variety of medications and supplements that can help reduce your dog's stress and anxiety from fireworks, and your veterinarian (or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist) is the best person to help you determine which one is best for your pets. Every pet and every situation is different. One medication that should never be used alone for fireworks noise anxiety is Acepromazine.
Learn more about supplements and commonly prescribed medications for noise anxiety, such as Sileo®, to discuss with your veterinarian in "Medications for Dogs Afraid of Fireworks (and other noises)."
Reach out to your veterinarian as early as possible (ideally even a month in advance) before July 4th. Your dog's dosage could be different since the last time they took the medication, or they might have medical conditions that can affect what medications are likely to be the safest or work best. And if your pet hasn't been seen by your vet within the last 6–12 months, they'll need a recent exam to receive a prescription.
By planning ahead, you'll have time to give trial dosages to see how the medication affects your dog, and how long it takes to start working. Your veterinarian can also discuss what non-prescription options might work best for your dog, especially if they are unable to take prescription medication. There are quite a few options including the Adaptil pheromone diffuser, all-natural Rescue Remedy for Pets, and anti-anxiety wraps like the Thundershirt.
Proactive Exposure Training — Noise Desensitization for Dogs
If you start ahead of time, you have a great opportunity to acclimate your dog to the sounds they'll hear on the 4th of July — from screeching bottle rockets to the deep booms of firework shells. This is "noise desensitization," and hopefully your dog was positively exposed to all different kinds of sounds during their critical socialization period. But all hope is not lost if they weren't — it's never too late to start!
Help us spread the word about noise desensitization by sharing this step-by-step guide on Facebook:
If your dog suffers from anxiety caused by loud noises (often referred to as noise aversion), your best course of action is to talk with your veterinarian about possible medication and supplements, and work with a certified dog trainer who can help you work through a desensitization and counter conditioning plan.
Helping Your Dog Get Used to Fireworks
Follow the steps below to pair the sounds of fireworks with positive experiences and things — this will help your dog get used to the noise before the holiday. Try to do this as early as you can with your dog. You don't want to start this training on July 3rd, as habituation does take time.
Step One: Pay attention to when your dog is relaxed and happy. This is the best time to do noise desensitization training.
Step Two: Start playing the sounds of fireworks at a very low volume. I can't stress enough to start with a very low volume. You don't want to make your dog afraid of fireworks noises by starting with it too loud and startling them.
Here's a video with a variety of fireworks noise:
Step Three: Watch your dog carefully and lower the volume of the fireworks or turn it off if you notice any signs of fear, stress, or anxiety. To learn how to read dog body language so you can tell if your dog is fearful, stressed, or anxious, visit our Dog Body Language Resource List, or download the DogDecoder app on your smartphone.
Step Four: Do a variety of things with your dog while the sounds of the fireworks are playing in the background. Make sure you watch their body language for any signs of stress or bad reaction to the sound of fireworks.
- Have a fun training session using high-value treats.
- Play a fun game with them using their favorite toys.
- Feed them their breakfast or dinner.
- Give them a gentle massage or have a calm cuddle session.
- Anything your dog finds rewarding and positive!
Step Five: Do this for up to ten minutes at a time, a few times a day.
Step Six: As long as your dog is remaining relaxed and happy, you can gradually increase the volume of the fireworks. For example, in the first session, the volume is at 1; in the second session the volume may be raised to 3; in the third session the volume may be raised to 5, etc. Go at your dog's pace, and only as quickly as they're comfortable with.
Create a Safe Space for Your Dog
Your dog will feel more secure if they have a certain area that they know they can relax and is safe for them. For some dogs this might be their crate, for others, it might be a particular corner that they go to often to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Read more about how to set up a safe space for your dog in this article, but be aware of any modifications you might need to make for a loud holiday like the 4th of July, such as adding more noise-canceling materials, plugging in a pheromone diffuser nearby or adding a few pieces of clothing that smell like you, or playing white noise to help block the booming fireworks. I like to turn on DogTV for both the calming music that helps mask fireworks sounds and provides visual stimulation and enrichment for my dogs.
If you're creating a safe space for your dog especially for July 4th, introduce them to it a few weeks in advance so they can build a positive association with the area and get comfortable using it.
Make Sure Your Dog is Microchipped
Did you know that the 5th of July is one of the busiest days of the year for animal shelters taking in dogs and cats that escaped their home during the fireworks of the night before? Make sure your dog has been microchipped and the registration is up-to-date with your current contact information. Click here to see how easy it is to make sure your dog's microchip is active and updated.
Do a Perimeter Check
Before the 4th of July, walk around the perimeter of your yard and make sure that everything is secure and there are no easy openings or holes through which your dog could escape. Check the fencing material to make sure it's sturdy and can't be easily broken or knocked down. And don't forget your fence gates — make sure they close and latch properly. By doing these checks in advance, you'll have time to get supplies for any repairs needed if there are any openings or weak spots.
The Day-Of: How to Help Your Dog Stay Calm on the 4th of July
Now that you've gotten what you can prepped ahead of time, what should you do on the actual day of the fireworks?
- Fireworks Shows and Dogs Don't Mix: It's best to just leave your pup at home if you plan on attending a live fireworks show or a party. They'll feel more comfortable being in a familiar environment (especially if you've created a safe space for them), and you'll be able to enjoy your time with friends and family. Just make sure you've closed all your windows and shut outside doors to prevent your dog from escaping.
- Exercise: Provide your dog with plenty of physical exercise before the fireworks begin. It's best to have your dog on a leash whenever you're outside, in case they are startled by a random bang and try to bolt.
- Give Medications or Calming Supplements: Depending on what medication or supplement you may be using for your dog, it's important to give the dose at the appropriate time for maximum benefits. Some medications and supplements take time to reach full effect, so be sure to ask your veterinarian how far in advance you need to give them to your dog. This may vary from a few hours prior to days ahead of time.
- Collar and ID Tags: Make sure your dog is wearing their collar with their identification tags, in case they do get out and become lost. This can save a lot of time in getting them back to you quickly if someone finds them.
- Hunker Down: My fourth of July consists of lots of exercise and training early in the day to help burn my dog's energy, followed by an action movie marathon during fireworks time. I put on my favorite jammies and cuddle up on the couch with my pup to relax for the evening.
Not only does this give me the chance to catch up on some movies, but it also provides some nice sound masking from the bangs and booms of the fireworks in my neighborhood. You can also use a loud fan or turn on music to mask the outside noise.
- Treat Party for Firework Noise: Grab your treat bag with some super high-value treats and keep it on you for the evening. Any time there's a loud firework noise, praise your dog and give them a treat. You're teaching them that the loud "scary" noise predicts something awesome happening — Pavlov would be proud.
This is similar to the noise desensitization protocol outlined earlier in this article, but you're doing it in real-time. You can also give your dog an interactive toy or a Kong stuffed with yummy food and treats to give your dog something fun and positive to work on while the fireworks sound outside.
- Comfort — Don't Coddle: You can provide your dog with soothing petting and snuggles if they're showing anxiety during fireworks. Physical touch can go a long way in helping your dog feel less stressed. Just try not to become anxious yourself, as our dogs are very aware of our emotional state and may mirror your anxiety.
- Potty Breaks: At some point, your dog will most likely need a potty break while fireworks are going off. Make sure they are leashed and under control to prevent them from bolting if a loud noise scares them. I recommend keeping them leashed for potty breaks even if you have a fenced yard — safety first!
How to Help a Cat Who is Fearful of Fireworks with Noise Desensitization
If your cat gets upset over fireworks, you can try many of the same steps that work for dogs above. There are just a few tweaks to account for a cat's nature.
Helping Your Cat Get Used to the Fireworks
Start by getting them comfortable with the sounds using recordings of fireworks.
Each session will be just a few minutes long while your cat is relaxed. If they lose interest or leave the area, that's the end of the session. Over the course of a few weeks and multiple sessions, you'll gradually help your cat get used to the sounds while simultaneously building positive associations with those sounds.
Play a recording of fireworks at the lowest possible level. If they're comfortable, give them a treat and turn the volume up a notch. Again, if they're comfortable, give your cat another treat and turn the volume up a bit more.
You'll continue this process of gradually increasing the intensity/volume and providing a reward until the volume is as high as you're willing to make it.
The trick is never to push past your cat's comfort zone. If they show even subtle signs of discomfort as you turn up the volume, end the session right there.
For the next session, start a few steps back. Let's say you turned the volume from 1 to 2 to 3, and your cat was fine, but at 4, they got a little anxious. For the next session, start at level 2 and gradually move forward again. You might even add a half-step. Instead of going from 2 to 3 to 4, try 2 to 3 to 3.5 to 4.
As noted above with dogs, you can also try leaving the sounds on in the background at a comfortable level for your cat while you do positive things with them. Treat sessions, meals, play, training sessions, etc., will help your cat associate good things with the fireworks.
Understand Cat Body Language
Context is everything when it comes to reading a cat's body language. That's because they use many of the same movements to express very different feelings. Looking at the situation can help you figure out what's what.
If your cat is in a tense situation, these are signs they may be feeling anxious:
- Trying to look smaller
- Eyes darting like they don't know where to look
- Eyes getting very large or small
- Licking lips
- Ears turning slightly or fully to the side or back
- Skin twitching
- Tail swishing
- Tense face and posture
The Day-Of: How to Help Your Cat Stay Calm on the 4th of July
It's unlikely that you'll be able to get the recorded sounds loud enough to completely desensitize your cat to the real thing. So, it's important to take some additional steps.
- Keep your cat inside! And make sure doors and windows stay closed. This will keep your cat safe and control the sounds (and smells if the fireworks are nearby).
- Make sure your cat has a "safe zone": This should be a room where they're comfortable, with hiding spots and their necessities (food, water, litter box, toys) nearby, so they aren't forced to venture out. Dim the lights and put on some soft music or white noise.
- Use Pheromones: Spritz a pheromone spray, like Feliway, around the room.
- It's OK to hide: Never force your cat out of hiding if they're scared by the fireworks.
- Build positive associations: Make good things happen for your cat while the fireworks go off. If they're hiding, stop by every now and then for a pet and a favorite treat. If they're anxious but aren't hiding, try play sessions, training sessions, whatever they love.
- Try natural calming supplements: Some find Zylkene works well to help their cat relax. Others don't see any change. But it's safe to try, can be used when needed, stopped anytime, and has no side effects.
- Talk to your veterinarian: If your cat is highly stressed by fireworks, your veterinarian may recommend a prescription medication to get them through the day with less fear
Hopefully, with these 4th of July preparation tips, you and your pets will have a wonderful holiday — happy 4th of July!
Share with us what you do to keep your dog calm during fireworks in the comments below.