The American Humane Association reports that July 5 is the busiest day at animal shelters, caring for all the pets who simply ran in fright during fireworks the night before, but in 2016 the ASPCA did some research on that statement and found it’s not necessarily true. Sifting through data from pet owner surveys that included questions on lost pets, “What we did not find in the surveys was that the 4th of July is a significant driver for losing a pet. While 12% of dogs and 11% of cats were lost in a severe weather event around that time period, we did not have folks reporting their pet was lost because of 4th of July celebrations. Now, that is not to say that pets do not panic and run off during fireworks–just that it is not a major reason folks identified.”
And that’s not to say that fireworks won’t frighten them enough to make them run blindly when they are frightened. Being near fireworks can be uncomfortable for us humans, but even at a distance they take their toll on our pets’ highly sensitive ears and can leave them highly stressed, confused and irritable, and even a pet who has shown no interest in the outdoors might just take off into the night to try to get as far away from that horrible noise as possible. The holiday has many other real dangers aside from fireworks, though, like foods and decorations and open doors from people spending more time outside. Don’t forget about your pets when preparing for any home event, or when July storms arrive.
My community hosts its 4th of July celebration on July 3, so that adds an extra day to the fireworks noise, and then my neighbors have to extend the celebration. I don’t have air conditioning and all the windows are open all summer long unless I absolutely need to close them, but even when they are closed the fireworks from Carnegie Park are close enough to clearly see and hear in our house. But we really don’t need to wait for them because our neighbors have been shooting off their own display since the end of May, beginning with Memorial Day.
I live six miles from downtown Pittsburgh and when the Pittsburgh Pirates play ball they nearly always seem to shoot off fireworks over the river, and there are fireworks on the river for the beginning of the Three Rivers Regatta—these are still close enough that the deep concussion of the sound, even at that distance, had all the cats wondering if they should run to the basement, under the bed, or just stand still with big eyes and one paw lifted and hope for the best. At 2:00 a.m. someone in the neighborhood saw fit to try out some pyrotechnics a few streets away, and the sharp “crack” practically lifted all the cats off the bed. Not only the former ferals here have been growing more frantic as the frightening noises have escalated. One firecracker can start a stampede of cats running in all directions and even managing to hurt themselves in the process.
They are all more and more stressed by these startling and unexplained noises day and night, leading up to the big day, and it all adds up for them. This is when we need to be extra careful with our animal companions, who will often act completely out of character as a result of stress from this constant barrage of noise on their sensitive ears, noise they can’t see or identify. Even a cat who has shown no interest in the outdoors might feel that being trapped inside and unable to get away from the noise may start to feel unsafe. A sudden loud noise can be startling, and a startled pet will often look for protection by trying to hide or running as far and as fast as it can from the source of the noise, often running away or into more danger if outdoors, or injuring itself in its haste indoors.
Check your doors, check your screens, check for frightened pets before you open a door.
Also, take caution when handling a frightened or traumatized cat. Even the most socialized cat, startled by a loud noise very near and feeling the need to run and hide, might struggle in being held and even scratch and bite. Approach your pet in a way that respects their condition and try not to make it worse.
And let’s hope that our resident wildlife can find a safe place to hide from the noise as well, especially when many fireworks celebrations are set off in parks, which are homes for many of our most familiar species.
Other holiday dangers
In addition to loud unexpected noises, also keep your pets protected from:
- hot grills
- matches and lighter fluid
- alcoholic drinks
- insect repellent not intended for pets
- citronella liquid or candles
- fire pits and anything else that has flames
- the contents of firecrackers, fireworks and most other pyrotechnics—and don’t forget to clean up the residue from anywhere your pets might encounter it
- glow sticks—the contents are toxic and the plastic can be easily chewed
- balloons, garlands and ribbon
Take a look around for any part of the holiday we take for granted but which may put your pet in the path of danger. Keep your pets away from your own holiday fun, especially at night outdoors when it’s hard to see what they are up to.
Preparing for the holiday
- In part, preparing your pet for this holiday is not unlike preparing for an emergency just in case your pet really does get frightened and run off. Make sure your pet has ID, such as a collar with tags and a microchip, so they are quickly and easily identifiable. Take a good photo of your pet just in case you need to make lost pet signs.
- Consider giving your pet, especially cats, a safe room with places to hide in, like under the bed or in a closet. On the night of the 4th while fireworks are blasting all around you, the safe room can be dark and closed off to the outside with soft music or comforting sounds to cushion the noise. You can even add calming pheromones and some fun food or treats to help them feel more comfortable.
- Watch for changes in behavior such as lack of appetite, excessive talking, pacing or aggressiveness, and don’t discipline them when they act out of fear.
- Before your celebration, or before you leave for your celebration, play with your pet and pay lots of attention to help ease their stress. If you have guests, let them know your pet should not be able to go outdoors or that your pet should stay in the safe room.
Lost pet mobile app
The ASPCA has a free Lost Pets App for android and iphone. You can:
- Receive a personalized missing pet recovery kit that will walk them through the process of searching for their pet in a variety of circumstances
- Build a digital lost pet flyer that can be shared instantly on social media channels
- Access critical advice—even if there’s no data connectivity—on ensuring an animal’s safety before, during and after a major storm or disaster
- Store and manage their pet’s health records
And remember other animals
Just take a moment to think about the wildlife that may be in your vicinity, wild parents with their young who may also be frightened by loud noises.
Download a guidesheet
Download a guidesheet with tips to help your pets during this summer holiday season.
PDF to print and save to your computer.
JPG for mobile devices.
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Big Bang Theory, ASPCA article on lost pets from July 4 festivities.
Fourth of July Safety Tips from the ASPCA is a comprehensive list of all the material dangers your pet can encounter on a picnic or cookout or even in the house.
4th of July Cat Safety Tips by Pam Johnson Bennett, CABC, on Cat Behavior Associates, LLC is very cat -specific, giving tips on how to keep kitty safe, indoors, and even confined if necessary.
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