Creating a safe haven for pets this Fourth of July
When it comes to easing stress and reducing the chance of an unexpected reaction in pets on the Fourth of July, having a plan in place—and practicing it—can help, says Candace Croney, PhD, MS, director of the Center for Animal Welfare Science at Purdue University.
Unless that plan involves shutting your pet in an unfamiliar crate while you go off to watch the fireworks. That, she told NEWStat, would be a bad plan.
What’s a good pet plan for the Fourth of July?
The best option of all is a safe-space crate, which is “a very special, fun place to be. A place they choose to go in,” said Croney.
But a safe-space crate takes time to establish, and involves dedicated crate training. It’s best not to try crating for the first time on the Fourth if you haven’t had time to properly set up—that could do more harm than good—especially if your pet panics and gets injured trying to escape.
“You don’t want to undo the great benefits of beginning crate training by shutting them in there on the Fourth when they’re not ready,” she said. “Anxious dogs have been known to crack or break teeth while trying to escape from crates.”
If pets are to be confined in crates, they should be well adapted to them and preferably have had enough positive experiences in their crates to choose to be in them when afraid or distressed.
“I never want to tell people it’s too late do to anything,” says Croney, “It’s never too late to start crate training.” But, she adds, even if you get started today, if you’re starting from scratch, it’s likely too late to expect them to feel safe in less than a week.
The good news? “You’ve got plenty of time to set up a safe room.”
Fourth of July pet safety tips when you can’t crate
Set up a safe room
Start by finding a comfortable place in your home where your pets can be safely enclosed. Croney recommends a location such as a basement, bathroom, or closet that minimizes exposure to the loud noises and flashes of light associated with fireworks.
Provide additional hiding spots
She said it’s also a good idea to give the pet additional options to hide or retreat within the larger secure area, such as:
- Behind or under furniture
- Inside a draped crate they’re familiar with
- A “cave” or tent-bed
Buffer against noise
She also suggests buffering the noise of the fireworks by using white noise generators, calming music, or televisions.
Give them freedom to move
No matter where your pets go to feel safe in the house, Croney recommends allowing them to come and go from their safe space as they please. Locking them in a single room or small space, she says, can sometimes increase anxiety. “If feasible, test out your arrangement with your pet ahead of time,” she said. This will prepare them and provide an opportunity to determine if the setup works.
Be a comforting presence
“Stay with your pet if possible,” said Croney; even if they choose to hide, your presence will reassure them, especially if you’re calm and relaxed. “Stressed owners can worsen stress in their pets,” she said. “Preparing ahead of time will help you and your pet.”
For pets who do choose to interact rather than hide in the safe space, it’s important to keep them occupied. Croney recommends distracting them with their favorite toys, treats, or games. Puzzle toys that dispense kibble or treats are great for creating a positive environment that’s as close to normal as possible. She said the goal is to build positive associations with being temporarily confined.
Bring outdoor pets inside
Many people don’t think about bringing outdoor pets indoors, said Croney, which is something they should do well before the fireworks begin—if the fireworks start while they’re still outside, that can scare them and cause them to bolt. Next thing you know, you’re out scouring the neighborhood for a lost pet.
Update microchip contact information
Many pet owners overlook updating their current contact information on their pets’ microchip registrations and on their pets’ collars: “That can become critical to their safe return if they escape.”
To up the odds that a lost pet gets found fast:
- Make sure you have a current picture of your pet.
- Check that your pet's ID tags are secure and up to date with your pet's name and your contact information.
- If your pet is microchipped, make sure all the information is current. Microchipping pets greatly increases the chances that lost, missing, or stolen pets will be reunited with their families.
Maybe leave the dog at home?
In an age where many owners consider their pets family members who should be included in all activities, some may be tempted to bring their dogs along to the local park or beach to watch the fireworks being set off.
“Think about whether that’s really a good choice,” said Croney. Even for dogs who seem comfortable amid a hubbub of noisy, festive activity, “Their hearing is much more sensitive to lower and higher sound frequencies.”
That means the booming of fireworks may be loud enough to be painful to them. If an owner insists on bringing along their dog, Croney recommends putting them in a well-fitted harness rather than just a leash: “[It] may help avoid situations where they panic and slip their collars.”
Fourth of July tips for cat owners
The recommendations aren’t much different for cats versus dogs (or other small pets), said Croney: “The most important thing is to know your animal and tailor what you do to their individual needs and preferences.”
Because each animal is different, their tolerance for the noise and chaos of fireworks will be different, as will their individualized responses. Croney said that while cats may be more likely to seek out hiding areas, “They may be just as reassured as dogs by the presence of one or more of their family members when fireworks are going off.”
Tony McReynolds is a temporarily petless freelance writer who lives near a dog park in Lafayette, Colorado. He dreams of one day owning a Newfie who isn't afraid of water (which the last one was, and seriously, how is that even possible?).
Photo credit: © _LeS_ E+ via Getty Images Plus
Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors.