Fireworks are a manmade spectacle we enjoy around summertime holidays, but they aren’t so pleasant for some. Fourth of July fireworks may be a traumatic experience for veterans or those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

It’s also a harrowing experience for dogs and cats – nearly one in five lost pets goes missing after being scared by a loud noise, like fireworks or thunderstorms, a survey from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found.

This Independence Day, here’s what to know about keeping your furry friends safe. 

Why are dogs scared of fireworks?

Dogs have heightened senses – they can hear at higher frequencies and up to four times as far as humans can and their sense of smell can be 10,000 times more powerful. But unlike humans, dogs are unable to tell where a sound is coming from. 

We also can’t give our pets a heads-up that fireworks are happening. Heightened hearing but a misperception of noise source gives dogs a sense of “pure panic,” says veterinarian Diana Watkins, who owns 143 Veterinary Services in Massachusetts. 

“It smells and sounds terrifying to them, almost like it would if we were in a battle and weren’t expecting it,” Watkins says.

When dogs hear, see or smell the explosion of a firework, their first instinct is often to run. 

“It’s oftentimes hard for them to get back home because by the time they have come to their senses and calm down a bit, they’re too far,” Watkins says. 

Is it OK to take a dog to fireworks?

Though man’s best friend is often by our side, you shouldn’t take your dog to watch the fireworks with you, Watkins says. 

Dogs at firework showings won’t just be stressed out because of the sensory experience – they’ll also be away from home when they’re experiencing anxiety. 

“You’re also taking them away from the environment that they’re used to, so if they do bolt, they’re more likely to get lost,” Watkins says. 

Even if you’re keeping your pup at home, Watkins recommends making sure they have an ID tag on at all times or investing in a GPS locator for their collar if your pet isn’t microchipped.

If possible, your dog should stay home with at least one human so they can reassure them if they get anxious. Stay with your pet in a room that has minimal windows to see the firework activity and play soft music or a movie to distract from the other noises. 

How to calm a dog down

A little affection goes a long way – Watkins says one of the best ways to calm your dog down is to give them strong, firm pats to let them know you’re here for them. You can try anxiety-reducing devices like a Thundershirt, which acts like a weighted blanket to soothe your dog. 

You can also equip your home with calming pheromone diffusers and collars which have a canine-appeasing chemical that “reminds them of when they were nursing,” Watkins says. It lets them know they’re safe, protected and can relax. 

For extra nervous dogs, there are also situational anxiety medications your vet can prescribe. This can be helpful during loud sensory events like thunderstorms and fireworks or if you’re leaving your dog alone for longer than normal.

Watkins advises only to give your dog veterinary-grade products because over-the-counter anti-anxiety and CBD supplements are often not FDA regulated and can be harmful to your pup.

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Are cats scared of fireworks?

Most people know dogs and fireworks don’t mix, but did you know fireworks have an equally frightening effect on cats?

Cats are more sensitive to higher-frequency sounds than dogs and also have difficulty differentiating where the sound is coming from. They experience a similar panic when faced with unexpected loud noises.

“Account for (indoor and outdoor cats) a couple of days ahead of known fireworks because they can bolt too,” Watkins says. “They’ll do anything when they’re really scared.”

If you’ve got a freaked-out kitty on your hands, you can calm them down by sitting with them in a room that doesn’t have many windows, soothing and petting them, Watkins says.

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