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A loud boom rattles the house and Little Red cowers in the back of the closet, shaking with fear. Usually a calm, playful orange tabby, Little Red gets very anxious on the Fourth of July. As the fireworks continue, she has an accident in the hall. One minute, she’s clingy and the next minute she’s under a chair, hissing. Fireworks can be terrifying for a cat. Read on to find out more about how cats react—and what you can do to help your kitty this Fourth of July.
When cats are scared, their survival instincts kick in. They might hide, urinate in places they’re not supposed to, scratch, hiss, or vocalize their frustration.
Shelters in the United States say July 4, 5, and 6 are the busiest days of the year as they take in lost pets that flee from their homes after being startled by fireworks. They see cats that have jumped from high windows, raced in front of cars, or run blocks away from their homes. Some cats are injured at home from toppling furniture or chewing their skin raw. In short, fireworks and cats don’t mix.
What can you do to protect your kitty? First, recognize the behaviors that signal your kitty is stressed out.
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
7 Tips to Help Your Cat Cope with Fireworks
Fortunately, there’s quite a bit you can do to help your cat get through this year’s neighborhood fireworks.
1. Prepare your cat to deal with loud noises
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. If your cat has a favorite hiding spot or is crate-trained, fill their safe place with comfortable blankets and bedding to ensure they feel secure. Include their favorite toys or other distractions. Be sure to include a small litter box if their usual box is at the other end of your home.
You can also stay in the same room with your cat. Close the windows, pull the curtains or blinds, turn on a fan, and then snuggle up together. Mask the sound of the fireworks as best as you can with white noise, gentle voices, or soothing music.
Try not to leave your cat alone during the fireworks, but don’t feel you have to touch or hold them if they aren’t comfortable with that—they might be happier under the bed or in a closet. Expect them to head for their favorite safe space, and you can hang out nearby.
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 from a door or balcony if they are scared. Be extremely careful when opening doors that your cat is secured; if you have guests over, make sure they know how quickly your cat could dart out when the door opens.
Check screen windows to make sure your cat can’t claw or push the screen loose. Panicked cats have been known to pry flimsy screens loose and topple out of windows.
As always, make sure your cat has an updated name tag on a properly fitting collar and is microchipped. If you’ve moved recently, take a few minutes to go online or get on the phone to update your contact information in the microchip database of the company where your pet is enrolled.
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 muffle 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 outside sounds.
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 (or they) aren’t up for a game, try a new toy. If your cat responds well to catnip, that’s another option.
5. Stay calm
Encourage your cat to stay calm by acting calm yourself. Don’t punish your kitty for their fear or anxiety, as this will only increase their stress.
While some cats will want to be held or cuddled, avoid holding a frightened cat against their will to calm them. Instead, let but let them come to you. Trying to keep hold of a panicking cat can result in injuries to you and the kitty. Stay calm, and follow your cat’s lead when it comes to interaction.
6. Explore medication or alternative therapy
If your cat has had an extreme reaction to fireworks or loud noises in the past, check in with your veterinarian. They might want to prescribe anti-anxiety medication or sedatives.
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. They contain pheromones, which appear to make cats feel more secure; pheromones also come in spray versions.
A compression jacket like the ThunderShirt calms many cats by making them 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 the wrap on for 20–30 minutes, removing it for a similar period, and then putting it back on.
7. Schedule your cat sitter
If you plan to be out of town for the holiday and fireworks, this might be a good time to have a cat sitter who can check regularly on your cat’s health and safety.