How to Keep Pets Safe During Storms and Fireworks
My cat, Fuzzy, is a gentle little soul. He is sweet, loving, and sensitive to my feelings. He’s also sensitive to the placement of his litter box, the time of day he is fed, visitors, the rearrangement of furniture, and loud noises. He is especially sensitive to loud noises. He is in good company.
In the United States, more pets get lost on the Fourth of July than on any other day of the year.
Luckily, there are some things that we can do to keep our pets safe.
Exercise During Quiet Times
Exercise your pets early in the day or well before the storm. Like humans, a pet that is tired is more likely to be relaxed than one who has excess energy. Early in the day on a holiday with fireworks, before the parties really start, is an excellent time to go for an extra long walk, to the dog park, or to have an extensive play session. If you have a cat, I highly recommend the Da Bird Cat Toy—most cats love the sound the “wings” make and become very engaged with this toy.
Use a Secure Leash & Consider a Harness.
This is a good idea all the time, but it is absolutely crucial when you are out at a time that fireworks could be set off. Remember that many people set off their fireworks long before nightfall and, indeed, many days before and after the actual holiday. Be sure to keep your pet on a leash that you can control. Many breeds, too, are better off on a harness than on a leash that is only connected to a collar—Shelties and Collies, for example—but most dogs can benefit from the added security of a harness.
Keep them Leashed
Don’t let your pet off leash in an unsecured area. Even well trained animals can get spooked. What never seemed to bother them before may now do so. Anxieties in animals, like anxieties in their human counterparts, can arise suddenly. Don’t assume that you know your dog’s limits.
Secure the Doors
Secure the doors if you have company coming. This is a good idea any time you have company coming, regardless of the purpose. Get togethers can be full of energy and excitement. That is fun, but it is also a lot of activity for many pets. Even if they aren’t usually fans of “The Great Escape,” they may get overwhelmed and head for the door. Consider creating a sign on the door that says, “Please Be Careful, Don’t Let the Animals Outside.” Also consider setting up a pet gate as a barrier and/or keep the animals in a secure part of the house with water and, if appropriate, a litter box.
Don’t Leave Pets Alone Outside
Don’t leave your pets alone outside, even in a secure area. Fireworks and storms are frightening for many animals. Leaving them in a place where they are forced to confront that which they fear can be highly traumatic for them and increase the likelihood that they will respond badly when they are confronted with a similar situation in the future. What’s more, what you believe to be secure may not really be. A frightened animal can be a determined animal and they may find, or create, a way out that you never imagined. Just don’t do it.
It is okay to soothe your companion animal. The idea that giving your pet cuddles and love during a stressful time reinforces their response is, quite frankly, absurd. This idea comes from a misunderstanding of advice that tells us not to respond in ways that indicate to our pet that we may also be afraid. The best way to interact with your pet during times of stress is to remain calm and upbeat. Neither of those things negate you giving them love and affection if they need your reassurance. They do mean that you should try doing things like playing with them or calmly petting them and telling them, via words spoken in a relaxed tone of voice, that everything is fine. (If you aren’t sure how to have a relaxed tone of voice, try to smile while you talk. Most people’s voices lift when they smile.)
Provide a Safe Haven
Animals have senses that are often much more heightened than our own. They hear better, which means that they may be hearing distant fireworks or thunder that you cannot. They are also more responsive to static electricity, barometric pressure, and wind. These things alone can be off-putting, but if your pet has also learned to associate these things with something that frightens them, like a storm, then they are more likely to respond anxiously. You can, however, counter this by giving them a place they can go where they feel secure. An interior room is a great option. You can enhance this feeling of security by providing a light (limiting the flashing of lightning or fireworks) and turning on some music to help drown out the sounds.
Make sure your pet is wearing their ID tags. This is another way a harness can be handy for certain breeds of dogs—it can be difficult to get a secure collar around all the hair on a Sheltie, for example, but a harness is a lot more difficult to pull out of. Identification can be on that harness. Make sure that the information on the ID tags is up-to-date.
Get a Microchip
A microchip is about the size of a grain of rice, it does not injure your companion at all, and it greatly increases the odds of finding a pet if it is lost. Many people mistakenly believe that a microchip is the same thing as a GPS or radio tracker that puts out a signal all the time. It is not. It is, in fact, like a barcode that can only be read by a special reader. You do not need to worry about “powering” a microchip, but you do need to make sure that you keep your contact information up-to-date with somewhere like Home Again—otherwise the only contact information that will be on file is whatever you had/have at the time of microchipping. Note: You might want to consider some sort of GPS or radio tracker if you have a pet that likes to try to get out. Here is a link to some more information.
There are a number of pheromone products out there that can be used to soothe cats and dogs. Pheromones are a type of chemical communication that works between members of a species. Certain calming pheromones can sometimes help relieve stressed pets. Pheromone products are said to mimic natural cat or dog pheromones and come in sprays, plug-in diffusers, wipes, and collars. We use ComfortZone and Feliway plug-ins and collars for our cats any time there is added stress in the house. These products can also help with certain behavior problems like inappropriate scratching or spraying. For more information about how these products work, check out this link.
Consider a Thundershirt
I do not personally have experience with Thundershirts, though I am considering trying one for Fuzzy. I have, however, heard that they work for some dogs and cats with anxiety issues. The Thundershirt is a sort of, well, shirt that you can put on your dog or cat that provides a gentle, soothing pressure not unlike a hug. Like any product, it may not work for your pet, but if your companion has an anxiety issue it might be worth giving it a try. Here is the link to their website.
Talk to your Vet about Medication
Medication is something that should only be considered after numerous other things have tried and failed. Some pets, however, have extreme anxiety and, in these rare cases, medicine is the kindest option for them. My cat Fuzzy is one of these pets. We do what we can to soothe him and provide him with a safe space, but sometimes stressors just become too much for him to handle. He shows this anxiety by not consistently using his litter box. After much investigation (and use of a black light and Fizzion cleaner), Fuzzy’s vet recommended that we try a cat-sized dose of anti-anxiety medication. We took the time to find the right dosage so that he is calm but not, well, stoned-seeming. We also only use it on an as-needed basis. Always use caution when providing a pet with any medicine (or supplements), and only do so under a veterinarian’s supervision. Note: If your cat is eliminating outside the litter box, please talk to your vet. The issue is more likely to be due to a UTI or severe constipation than anxiety. Always investigate those first.
So, what do you think? Is there anything I am missing? If you have any additional tips or tricks, please leave a comment so that others can benefit from your experience and knowledge.