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Little Red cowers in the back of the closet, shaking with fear. In the distance, a loud boom rattles her bones. Little Red is usually a calm, playful orange tabby cat, but every Fourth of July, she becomes an anxious mess. As the night goes on, she has accidents all over the house and her behavior varies from aggressively hissing to being super clingy.
Fireworks are scary for everyone, but especially cats. When cats are scared, their survival instincts kick in. They might hide, urinate in places they’re not supposed to, scratch, hiss, and vocalize their frustration.
Shelters in the United States say July 4 and 5 are the busiest days of the year as they take in lost pets. Scared cats have been known to jump out of apartment windows, leap over fences, or chew their skin until raw. Basically, fireworks and cats don’t mix.
It’s important to take precautions to keep your cat safe during firework festivities, as many cats can become very stressed out.
Signs of fear and anxiety in cats
Even though fireworks don’t seem very scary to us, your cat could be terrified or even phobic of the lights, sounds, and smells of fireworks. Due to their excellent hearing, they can even hear loud sounds that we can’t.
According to petMD, your cat may exhibit the following anxious behaviors when they are frightened:
- Excessive vocalization (meowing, hissing, shrieking, etc.)
- Excessive grooming
- Trying to escape
- Destructive or aggressive behavior
- Heavy, open-mouthed breathing
- Failure to use the litter box
How to help your cat cope with fireworks
While we know fireworks are meant for celebration, that’s certainly not how cats see them. Here’s what you can to do help your cat through Independence Day.
1. Prepare your cat for the sound of fireworks ahead of time
Dr. Marty Becker (aka “America’s Veterinarian”) recommends preparing your cat for the noise ahead of time by exposing them to recordings of fireworks, then give them praise and treats for staying calm to associate the noise with good things.
PetMD adds that desensitization and counter-conditioning are the most effective way of handling fear, phobia, or anxiety. By exposing your cat to loud noises and providing them with a rewarding stimulus, they learn not to be afraid of the trigger event.
2. Create a safe space in your home
When cats are scared, they like to hide in a safe, dark place where they can’t be seen. If your cat has a favorite place to hide or is crate-trained, fill it with comfortable blankets and bedding to ensure they feel safe and secure. Be sure to include their favorite toys or other distractions.
You can also stay in the same room with your cat and create a dark, cool cave to share with them. Close the blinds, turn a fan or air conditioning on, then cuddle up together. Mask the sound of the fireworks as best as you can.
Try not to leave your cat alone during the festivities, but don’t coddle or hold them if they aren’t comfortable with that.
3. Prevent your cat from escaping
Noisy fireworks and other celebrations can startle cats and cause them to run away. If your cat is usually an outdoor cat, secure them in an internal room so they cannot escape if they are scared. Be very careful when opening doors that your cat has no chance of escaping. If you have guests over, make sure they know not to let your cat out.
As always, make sure your cat has an updated name tag on a properly fitting collar, and update your contact information in the microchip database.
4. Distract your cat with sounds and games
Distraction can be the key to making sure your cat doesn’t get too upset with the fireworks. While it’s tempting to keep the windows open in July, keep them closed to hide the noise of explosions. Close the curtains before the fireworks start; the flashes of light might startle your cat too.
Once the night has arrived, turn the TV on and the volume up. Cats are used to hearing sounds come from the TV and it can help calm them down.
If you’re not watching TV, turn on classical music (which seems to help calm animals). You can also turn on a fan or the air conditioner to muffle the sounds coming from outside.
Cats love to play and hunt. If you’re feeling creative, create a fun kitty “treasure hunt” with small dishes around the house. If you’re not up for a game, a new toy or catnip will work too.
5. Stay calm
Encourage your cat to stay calm by acting like everything is just fine. Do your normal daily activities as best as possible. PetMD discourages reassuring the cat when it is in the midst of experiencing fear or panic. The cat may interpret your assurance as a reward for its behavior and continue to repeat the behavior. Similarly, don’t punish your kitty for their fear or anxiety, as this will only make your cat more stressed.
You shouldn’t hold frightened kitties against their will to calm them, but instead, let them come to you. Holding a panicking cat can result in scratches and bites on you as well as injuries to the cat, who might strain themselves trying to get away from you. Follow your cat’s lead when it comes to interaction.
5. Medication and alternative therapy
There are a few alternate routes you can take if your pet is still struggling with fear during fireworks. Some pet owners swear by calming collars. These collars contain pheromones, which appear to make cats feel more secure. Pheromones also come in spray versions.
A compression jacket makes a cat feel hugged and held securely. Temple Grandin, professor of animal sciences, researched this method and discusses it in her book Animals Make Us Human. Dr. Grandin advises putting on the wrap for 20-30 minutes, removing it for a similar period, and then reapplying it. A handful of companies offer them, like Anxiety Wrap and ThunderShirt.
For some cats, simple techniques might not work to keep their anxiety at bay. If your cat has an extreme reaction to fireworks or loud noises, you should speak with your veterinarian in advance about prescribing anti-anxiety medication or sedatives.
Top Tips For Keeping Your Cat Safe and Calm During Fireworks
- Create a safe, dark place for your cat to hang out
- Secure all doors and windows to prevent escapes
- Turn on the TV and raise the volume
- Once the fireworks start, use treats to reward your cat for staying calm and cool
- Ask your vet for anti-anxiety medication ahead of time
A calm cat is a happy cat. This year, Little Red is getting a kitty fort and a new toy during the fireworks. I hope your cat does too.
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