July Fourth is synonymous with freedom. July Fourth is also a time of year when the greatest number of pets are reported missing—except these pets aren’t celebrating their independence, but, unfortunately, are disoriented and terrified. While we watch a fireworks show in awe and wonder, our pets may be having an entirely different experience, and looking desperately to escape.

What is noise aversion in pets?

Noise aversion (i.e., the sudden and drastic reaction to a sound) is a medical condition that affects nearly 70% of pets. The problem can range from subtle to severe, and is often undiagnosed, because pets do not always express fear and anxiety in recognizable ways.

Dogs experiencing noise aversion may pant, dig, drool, whine or bark, urinate or defecate inappropriately, or become destructive. They may become restless, isolate themselves, or become clingy and seek attention. Cats, while less affected than dogs, may go into hiding, vocalize, or refuse to eat. No matter the outward signs, affected pets experience intense fear and anxiety equivalent to a panic attack. The loud, unpredictable nature of a summer thunderstorm or fireworks display can leave a well-trained pet scared and confused.

Don’t ignore your pet’s fear

Expecting a noise-averse pet to “get over it” is not the answer. Instead of improving over time, the fear, along with the subsequent behavior, only intensifies. Your pet may become so hypersensitized to fireworks that the innocent pop of a champagne bottle at Thanksgiving sends them into a tailspin.

Safe from sound—a pet oasis

You may not be able to confiscate your neighbor’s bottle rockets or mute your pet’s world, but you can make mindful choices to help them cope. Here are some recommendations for creating zen in your dog—or cat—den.

  • Talk with your veterinarian — Discuss your pet’s behavior. An exam may be necessary to rule out any medical reason for your pet’s reactions. Your veterinarian can help you develop a plan, and may prescribe anti-anxiety medication. 
  • Create a safe, escape-proof space — Fill your pet’s safe space with comfy bedding, familiar toys, and some soft music or white noise. Acclimate your pet to the area before you anticipate a noisy event. Their quiet space can also serve as a retreat if summer visitors or activities become too much.
  • Soothe away the stress — Give your pet a filled KONG or food-stuffed toys. Licking and chewing are endorphin-releasing, feel-good dog and cat behaviors. Introduce these toys prior to fireworks to prevent negative associations or gastrointestinal upset.
  • Wrap them tightly — An anti-anxiety body wrap made for pets applies gentle, steady pressure and creates a calming effect, which can be helpful for some pets. A snug fitting T-shirt can serve the same purpose in a pinch.
  • Dress them well — Keep a well-fitted collar or harness on your pet with updated ID tags. For the greatest peace of mind, have your pet microchipped, ensuring your veterinarian scans the chip regularly to ensure proper functioning.
  • Train them ahead of time — Conquer the fear with counterconditioning and the help of a veterinary behaviorist. This training option is best performed in the off-season when fireworks and thunderstorms are less likely to occur. Counterconditioning and desensitization are gentle methods used to help your pet learn new and positive responses to previously negative stimuli (e.g., fireworks). This is a gradual process, and you should consult a professional for best results.

Additional pet summer safety tips

July Fourth isn’t only fireworks. Keep these additional tips in mind throughout the summer to guarantee memories as warm as the weather.

  • Too hot to handle — Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are medical emergencies in pets, and can cause irreversible injury or death. Heat stress signs can include heavy panting, restlessness, red or blue gums, and an uncoordinated gait. Avoid this emergency situation by restricting your pet’s time outside, limiting exercise to morning and evening, and providing plenty of water and shade. Never leave your pet in a parked car.
  • Oh, those puppy dog eyes It’s hard to resist those puppy-dog eyes at the backyard grill, but sudden changes to your pet’s diet can lead to an undesirable aftermath. Fatty or greasy foods cause gastrointestinal upset or pancreatitis. Bones can be swallowed and splinter or become trapped in the stomach or intestines, requiring surgery.
  • Not all dogs are natural swimmers — If your July Fourth plans include water, invest in a lifejacket for your dog. Dogs can get tired while swimming, be overpowered by a wave, or fall from a boat or dock. A floatation device can save a life.
  • Ensure guests know the rules — Company coming? Notify all guests about your pet and whether or not they are allowed out of the house. It’s all too easy for a pet to slip out behind an unknowing visitor and quickly go missing. For the best protection, keep your pet leashed or confine them to a crate or small room as described above.

July Fourth is a day to recognize the history of this great nation. By implementing some of the steps outlined above, you and your pet can look forward to a safe and secure holiday. Contact us at Airway Animal Clinic for questions or concerns regarding noise aversion and your pet.