When you think of a pet being fearful of fireworks, the image of a trembling, whining or drooling dog may come to mind, but what about cats? Your cat may also be frightened by fireworks.
It makes sense that July 5th is the busiest day at the shelters due to dogs and cats who have bolted out of their homes in fear or become disoriented and terrified from the sight, smell and sound of July 4th fireworks.
A time that is festive, fun and exciting for most Americans is often terrifying for dogs, cats, horses, other livestock and even wildlife. Unfortunately, the fireworks aren’t always confined to just one day either. Your enthusiastic neighbors may begin the celebration several days in advance and continue for days after the Independence Day holiday.
Before getting into the calming tips, here’s an important safety tip that should be taken care of if you haven’t already: Have your cat microchipped. Even indoor cats should be microchipped in case of an escape outdoors. ID tags on collars are good but they can become separated from the cat. The safest form of identification is the microchip. The information on the registry should also be up-to-date. It’s also a good idea to make sure you have a current picture of your cat. Most cat parents have quite a few current pictures on their phones already but just double-check that you have a clear and sharp picture just in case the unthinkable happens and your cat gets lost.
Here are my tips to help you ease your cat through fireworks fears.
Keep Your Cat Indoors
Even if you normally allow your cat to go outdoors, bring her in several days before the 4th in case neighbors start celebrating early. Keep in mind that your cat may try to sneak outdoors or may even bolt in terror during loud noises so be mindful of opening and closing exterior doors.
Stay Home if Your Cat is Frightened by Fireworks
Skip the local fireworks celebration and stay home if your cat is frightened. Even if she chooses to hide and not interact with you, it’s safer to be home rather than leave her alone.
Don’t Leave Windows Open
Even with secure screens, a cat may be able to escape in a panic. Opened windows also allow too much noise in as well as the smell of the fireworks. Cats have very sensitive noses and the burning scent of fireworks can be disturbing.
Close Curtains and Blinds Before Fireworks Begin
This is will help buffer the sound a tiny bit but will also help with unsettling flashes of light.
Provide a Safe Spot for Your Cat
When frightened, most cats seek out hiding places. Create a safe room that has several cozy hiding places in it as well as a litter box and a water bowl. If your cat has a history of being frightened by fireworks or thunderstorms, place her in the room to get settled before all the noise begins. If she’s terrified, create a tunnel to the litter box so she can get there without feeling too exposed. You can use a cat tunnel you already have or make a temporary one out of papers bags. Cut out the bottoms and tape the bags together to make a long tunnel.
Create a Cozy Cat Cave
To prevent your cat from hiding under the bed or in the back of the closet, create a cozy hiding place that provides comfort. You can purchase a cave-style bed or you can even make your own by stretching a t-shirt over a box. Position the neck-hole of the shirt over the opening of the box. Place the box on its side and line it with a soft towel or fleece pad. An important reason that I like the homemade bed is that you can use a shirt you’ve worn so it has your comforting scent already on it. Here are video instructions on how to make a simple cat cave:
Create a Sound Buffer
Play music or put the television on to create a noise distraction. Some people use white noise but I prefer music or television which is a sound the cat normally associates as a household noise. Choose music or a television show that is soothing and play it at a comfortable volume. Don’t try to drown out the fireworks by playing very loud music. Classical music is a good choice or download the psychoacoustic music Through a Cat’s Ear. Keep in mind it’s not just the loud bangs that frighten your cat but the whizzing and whistling sounds associated with them as well.
Comfort Your Cat but Let Her Set the Pace
Your cat may want to crawl in your lap and bury her head in the crook of your arm or she may prefer to stay firmly planted in the back of the closet without the desire for any physical connection. Provide the type of comfort she wants. She’s frightened and may find comfort in just being stroked or in simply having you nearby. Comfort her the way she wants to be comforted and don’t worry about reinforcing any negative behavior by offering love and comfort to your frightened cat. Just don’t force physical touch on a cat who clearly doesn’t want it. Pay attention to what works with your cat.
Use a Calm Voice and Display Calm Body Language
Your cat is a little emotional sponge and she’ll pick up on the tone of your voice and your physical movements. Be casual as you move around the room and use a calm tone of voice to let her know all is safe in her world.
Offer Fun and Playtime for Your Cat
Your invitation to play may be declined by the cat but try anyway because the game may be enticing enough to distract her. You can use a fishing pole-type toy to try to get your cat to engage in playtime or you can offer a couple of food puzzle toys.
You can set up a Feliway diffuser in the safe room for your cat. The product contains synthetic feline facial pheromones which are said to have a calming effect and helps the cat identify with the territory. Some people claim the product works well with their cats and others say it has no effect at all. So it’s basically one of those “it can’t hurt to try” products as long as the cost isn’t a factor for you.
Don’t Medicate Your Cat Unless Prescribed by Your Veterinarian
Don’t give your cat one of your own anti-anxiety medications because the result could be disastrous. If your cat has a history of being absolutely terrified at this time of year, talk to your veterinarian about whether a prescription is needed or he/she may recommend an OTC supplement such as Zylkene (works best if started a few days beforehand). Always talk to your veterinarian first before administering any product to your cat.
Check Your Yard Afterward for Debris
If you have pets who are allowed outdoors (and especially if you have children) be sure and check around your yard for debris from firecrackers that could be picked up, played with or ingested.
Need More Information?
For more information on cat behavior and training, refer to the books by best-selling author Pam Johnson-Bennett, including the latest release, CatWise. Pam’s books are available at bookstores everywhere, through your favorite online bookseller and here on our website.