Pets and fireworks don't mix: Here's how to keep stressed dogs, cats safe and comfortable

It’s that time of year when firework displays, both professional and amateur, fill the eyes and ears of Hoosiers celebrating Independence Day.

Although most enjoy the sights and sounds, pets may need a little extra care this time of year.

Dr. Candace Croney, director of Purdue University’s Animal Welfare Science and professor of animal behavior and well-being, said some pets have a genetic tendency to be more fearful around loud noises.

“A number of factors come into play: What is the dog used to from what they learned early in their lives and what have they been exposed to? How fearful are they just based on genetics?” Croney said. "It’s a combination of genetics and the environment they are in.”

Fireworks at one of three official 4th of July celebrations in Carmel, Saturday, July 4, 2020. While people gather in droves to witness the bright lights and loud booms, some pets may experience stress and anxiety.
Fireworks at one of three official 4th of July celebrations in Carmel, Saturday, July 4, 2020. While people gather in droves to witness the bright lights and loud booms, some pets may experience stress and anxiety.

While some cats and dogs may not be outwardly fearful during firework displays, others can show panic and anxiety. Croney suggests preparing before the bangs and bright lights begin affecting pets.

How do fireworks affect pets?

Dog and cats have different experiences than humans because their capability to sense things is different. When it comes to hearing, dogs especially can hear above and below the normal human range and fireworks can be much louder to the dogs.

Those booms are potentially painful, too.

“It’s not just fear, what they are experiencing actually may hurt them depending on how close they are to the source of the noise,” Croney said.

One of the most important things people should understand about how fireworks are difficult for some animals, is that they’re unpredictable. The pets are likely not getting used to those sounds and people setting them off at different times. That unpredictability is part of what causes them stress and fear.

Those stress and fear responses can be much different between different pets. Older animals that may have hearing loss may show less stress. But a younger, healthier animal may have a heightened response and the exposure may not be just scary, but painful.

What can I do to help my pet?

The best answer to helping your pet cope with stress from fireworks is talk to your veterinarian early. Preparation is key.

If your pet has been diagnosed with anxiety and has been prescribed medication, make sure to have that on hand so you don’t get caught off guard, Croney said. It’s also important to know how far in advance to give your pet the medication so the effects are active during those stressful situations.

Begin building a safe and comfortable area for your pet as far in advance as you can, so the pet gets used to the area. That can be in a basement or closet or bathroom without an exterior wall.

“Any place to safely put them up and where they will be safe and comfortable and where you can control the amount of light and sound is a great start,” Croney said.

Give the pets their favorite treats or toys in the safe place so they also associate the area with positivity.

If the pet is crate trained and enjoys the crate, that’s also a good option. It might even be a good idea to drape a blanket over the create. If the pet likes to keep an eye on things, maybe drape the blanket over the crate just halfway, Croney said.

“They should not go into a crate unless they are comfortable with the crate and you can leave them safely in there and it has gone well before,” Croney said “The Fourth is not the day to start crate training.”

Around Indy: Where to find 2023 Fourth of July festivals, celebrations, fireworks in Central Indiana

Once a safe place is set up, there are ways to make it even better for the animal. Sound machines, calm voices on the T.V. or radio can help buffer the sound of fireworks. Make the area comfortable with a bed if the pet is used too that.

The big thing is to practice the set up and make sure you know where you will put them and introduce them to it before any fireworks begin.

One of the most reassuring things you can do is stay with them and relax and use that time to interact with them. If they are in the space with you and they want to interact, play games, practice training, do that interactive play.

“The beauty of that is if it goes well, it creates a memory for them, magic happens during all that pandemonium,” Croney said.

IndyStar's environmental reporting project is made possible through the generous support of the nonprofit Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Fireworks can cause pets stress, pain. Here's how to help