Getting Your Cat Ready for 4th of July

 

Large fireworks display over water

To ensure your pet stays calm during the 4th of July, it’s crucial to both prepare ahead of time and have a plan in place for the day of the event. By taking these steps, you can help minimize your pet’s anxiety and keep them safe.

Part 1: Prepare Ahead of Time

Woman holding her cat against her shoulder, giving her cat a kiss

Behavioral Modification Techniques

  • Understand Cat Body Language: Context is everything when it comes to reading a cat’s body language. That’s because they use many of the same movements to express very different feelings. Looking at the situation can help you figure out what’s what. If your cat is in a tense situation, these are signs they may be feeling anxious:
    • Trying to look smaller
    • Eyes darting like they don’t know where to look
    • Fidgeting
    • Eyes getting very large or small
    • Licking lips
    • Ears turning slightly or fully to the side or back
    • Skin twitching
    • Tail swishing
    • Tense face and posture
      • Start by getting them comfortable with the sounds using recordings of fireworks.
      • Each session will be just a few minutes long while your cat is relaxed. If they lose interest or leave the area, that’s the end of the session. Over the course of a few weeks and multiple sessions, you’ll gradually help your cat get used to the sounds while simultaneously building positive associations with those sounds.
      • Play a recording of fireworks at the lowest possible level. If they’re comfortable, give them a treat and turn the volume up a notch. Again, if they’re comfortable, give your cat another treat and turn the volume up a bit more.
      • You’ll continue this process of gradually increasing the intensity/volume and providing a reward until the volume is as high as you’re willing to make it.
      • The trick is never to push past your cat’s comfort zone. If they show even subtle signs of discomfort as you turn up the volume, end the session right there.
      • For the next session, start a few steps back. Let’s say you turned the volume from 1 to 2 to 3, and your cat was fine, but at 4, they got a little anxious. For the next session, start at level 2 and gradually move forward again. You might even add a half-step. Instead of going from 2 to 3 to 4, try 2 to 3 to 3.5 to 4.
      • You can also try leaving the sounds on in the background at a comfortable level for your cat while you do positive things with them. Treat sessions, meals, play, training sessions, etc., will help your cat associate good things with the fireworks.
  • Desensitization: Helping Your Cat Get Used to the Fireworks
    • Start by getting them comfortable with the sounds using recordings of fireworks.
    • Each session will be just a few minutes long while your cat is relaxed. If they lose interest or leave the area, that’s the end of the session. Over the course of a few weeks and multiple sessions, you’ll gradually help your cat get used to the sounds while simultaneously building positive associations with those sounds.
    • Play a recording of fireworks at the lowest possible level. If they’re comfortable, give them a treat and turn the volume up a notch. Again, if they’re comfortable, give your cat another treat and turn the volume up a bit more.
    • You’ll continue this process of gradually increasing the intensity/volume and providing a reward until the volume is as high as you’re willing to make it.
    • The trick is never to push past your cat’s comfort zone. If they show even subtle signs of discomfort as you turn up the volume, end the session right there.
    • For the next session, start a few steps back. Let’s say you turned the volume from 1 to 2 to 3, and your cat was fine, but at 4, they got a little anxious. For the next session, start at level 2 and gradually move forward again. You might even add a half-step. Instead of going from 2 to 3 to 4, try 2 to 3 to 3.5 to 4.
    • You can also try leaving the sounds on in the background at a comfortable level for your cat while you do positive things with them. Treat sessions, meals, play, training sessions, etc., will help your cat associate good things with the fireworks.

Environmental Modification Techniques

  • Create a Safe Space for Your Cat: Designate a secure, quiet, enclosed space in your home where your cat can retreat and feel safe. Make sure you have their necessities (food, water, litter box, toys) nearby, so they aren’t forced to venture out.
  • Enhance the Safe Space: Add noise-canceling materials such as heavy curtains, blankets, and rugs to help muffle the sounds of fireworks.
  • Ensure Your Cat’s Identification is Up to Date: Make sure your cat is microchipped, and ensure the information associated with the microchip is current (read our guide here). Check your pet’s identity tags to ensure their name and your contact information is visible. This increases the chances of being reunited with your pet if they become frightened and escape during the fireworks. If your pet is an escape artist, consider getting a GPS tracker. I recommend Tracker for dogs and cats.

Consult Your Veterinarian

  • Speak with your veterinarian about potential medications or supplements that can help manage your pet’s anxiety. They can recommend appropriate options and provide guidance on how to use them effectively.

Part 2: On 4th of July

It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get the recorded sounds loud enough to completely desensitize your cat to the real thing. So, it’s important to take some additional steps.

Create a Calm Environment

  • Keep Your Pet Indoors: Keep your pet inside to minimize exposure to the loud noises and flashes of fireworks. Secure all windows and doors to prevent your pet from bolting outside. Utilize the safe space you created for your pet.
  • Draw Curtains and Blinds: Block out visual stimuli such as flashes of light by closing curtains and blinds. Amazon carries portable black-out curtains, which can suction to your windows temporarily, providing a much more calm environment for your pet.
  • Play Calming Music: Play soft, calming music or white noise to help drown out the Studies indicate that music, particularly classical, significantly alleviates anxiety in dogs by masking the startling sounds of fireworks. Classical music has been shown to lower dogs’ heart rates and reduce behaviors associated with stress, making it an excellent choice for creating a peaceful environment. To make it easier, “Classical for Pets,” a curated playlist on Amazon Music, features soothing tracks perfect for calming your furry friend. Spotify has lots of pet playlists If soft, classical music isn’t doing the trick, then pick something with a heavy bass that will drown out the loud firework booms. You could try rock or even North African Belly Dancing music.
  • Use Pheromones:Use a diffuser, spray, or collar. These pheromone products mimic the F3 fraction of the feline facial pheromone that cats produce when they rub their faces against surfaces. Cats deposit this pheromone to mark their territory, signaling that the area is familiar and safe. The presence of these pheromones helps create a sense of security and comfort for cats, reducing stress and anxiety. Most cat owners prefer to use diffusers or sprays as cats can be particular about wearing collars. All products are odorless to humans.
    • Feliway Classic Diffuser: The diffuser is typically plugged into a wall outlet in the area where the cat spends most of its time, and it continuously releases the pheromone throughout the entire room to create a calming effect. It’s often used during stressful situations such as moving to a new home, changes in the household, introduction of new pets, or visits to the veterinarian.
    • Feliway Spray or bSerene Calming Spray: is another product from the Feliway line designed to help manage stress and anxiety in cats. Unlike the Feliway Classic Diffuser, which continuously releases synthetic pheromones into the air, Feliway Spray allows for targeted application. Spritz this product wherever your cat spends the most time (e.g., beds, windowsill, carriers, scratchers, furniture, etc). This can be particularly useful during stressful situations like car rides or visits to the veterinarian. The spray typically needs to be reapplied every 4-5 hours for continuous effect in the targeted area.
    • Sentry Calming Collar: is worn around the cat’s neck, where body heat activates the release of the pheromones. The continuous exposure to these calming pheromones helps to create a sense of security and reduce behaviors associated with stress, such as urine marking, scratching, hiding, or aggression. This collar is effective for up to 30 days and can be replaced as needed to maintain its calming effects.

Wrap & Tag Them

  • Cats Can Wear Thundershirts Too: These snug-fitting garments can help some pets feel more secure by providing gentle, constant pressure to calm anxiety, akin to swaddling an infant. This pressure triggers the release of calming hormones like oxytocin and endorphins, reducing stress and anxiety. If your cat freezes or completely spazzes with a Thundershirt on, take it off!
  • Make Sure Your Pet Is Wearing Their Collars and Tag

Reinforce Calm Behavior

  • It’s OK to hide:Never force your cat out of hiding if they’re scared by the fireworks.
  • Build positive associations:Make good things happen for your cat while the fireworks go off. If they’re hiding, stop by every now and then for a pet and a favorite treat. If they’re anxious but aren’t hiding, try play sessions, training sessions, whatever they love.

Administer Medications or Supplements

If your veterinarian has recommended medications or calming supplements, administer them at the appropriate time for maximum effectiveness. Some may need to be given a few hours before the fireworks start, others require only a few minutes.

  • Try natural calming supplements
    • Vetoquinol Zylkene capsules are a veterinary supplement designed to help manage stress and anxiety in dogs and cats. The active ingredient in Zylkene is a natural product derived from casein, a protein found in milk. This ingredient has calming properties and is known to promote relaxation without causing drowsiness. Some find Zylkene works well to help their cat relax. Others don’t see any change. But it’s safe to try, can be used when needed, stopped anytime, and has no side effects. They are safe and can be used alongside other behavioral management strategies or medications prescribed by veterinarians. This capsule is given to your cat once a day. You can find it on Amazon or our online pharmacy.
    • Nutramax Solliquin soft chews are a veterinary-exclusive supplement formulated to support behavioral health in dogs and cats. They contain a blend of natural ingredients, including L-theanine, magnolia extract, and phellodendron extract, which have calming properties to help manage anxiety and stress-related behaviors. Solliquin is designed to promote relaxation without causing sedation, making it suitable for daily use in pets prone to anxiety or exhibiting behavioral issues such as excessive vocalization, destructive behavior, or aggression. As with any supplement, it’s advisable to consult with a veterinarian to determine if Solliquin is appropriate for your pet and to discuss the correct dosage based on their specific needs.
    • Purina Pro Vet Calming Care Supplements: Contains a strain of beneficial probiotic bacteria (BL999), shown to help cats maintain calm behavior when fed daily for up to 6-weeks. Adding this supplement to your cat’s diet is safe, calming for cats & helps to blunt the production of the stress hormone cortisol.
    • Vetriscience Composure Calming for Cats: Contains a blend of natural ingredients, including colostrum calming complex, L-theanine, & thiamine (vitamin B1), which work synergistically to support relaxation without causing sedation.
    • Vetriscience Pro Composure Calming for Dogs & Cats: Features a combination of four effective ingredients including, colostrum calming complex, L-theanine, Thiamine (Vitamin B1) & L-tryptophan. The Pro version is versatile for use in households with both dogs & cats, allowing pet owners to administer the same calming supplement to multiple pets of different species.
    • Vetriscience Composure Max Liquid for Cats & Dogs: Contains the same ingredients as the other Vetriscience products. Unlike chewable or tablet forms, this product is formulated as a liquid, which may offer easier administration for pets that have difficulty with solid supplements.
  • Try CBD: a THC-free, CBD distillate fed at a dose of 4 mg/kg well tolerated by healthy cats when supplemented over a period of 26 weeks. For more detailed guidance, check out our article, What to Know if You Want to Give Your Dog CBD.
    • We recommend ElleVet for all CBD products. Their internal research suggests cats respond incredibly well to their CBD + CBDA oil, but many cats find the taste and smell of the oil challenging. The CBD + CBDA Feline Complete Paste contains their proprietary full spectrum CBD + CBDA and is extremely effective in addressing joint discomfort, stress, itching, and neuro support. The chicken liver flavor is finicky eater approved, so most cats not only accept, but enjoy it. Be sure to discuss dose with your veterinarian.

Where can I Learn More?

Find out more about how to keep your pet calm:

  • Watch Dr. Douglas Dean’s 4th of July recommendations here.
  • See WoofDoctor on Wheels recommended
    • Calming products for cats here.
    • Activity products for cats here.
  • Read How To Get Your Dog Ready for 4th of July here.

If you’d like to schedule an appointment or discuss anxiety medications for your pet, please call us at (843) 966-3362

References

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Coltherd, J. C., et al. (2024). Healthy cats tolerate long-term daily feeding of Cannabidiol. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 10. https://www.frontiersin.org/journals/veterinary-science/articles/10.3389/fvets.2023.1324622/full

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Homeopathic care for cats and dogs, revised edition: Small doses for small animals. (2010, September 7). by Don Hamilton D.V.M. (Author). https://www.amazon.com/Homeopathic-Care-Cats-Dogs-Revised/dp/1556439350

Kogan, L. R., Schoenfeld-Tacher, R., & Simon, A. A. (2012). Behavioral effects of auditory stimulation on kenneled dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 7(5), 268-275. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1558787811001845?via%3Dihub

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Landsberg, G., Hunthausen, W., & Ackerman, L. (2012). Behavior problems of the dog and cat (3rd ed.). Saunders Ltd. https://www.amazon.com/Behavior-Problems-Landsberg-ECWABM-behaviour/dp/0702043354

Levine, E. D., Ramos, D., & Mills, D. S. (2007). A prospective study of two self-help CD based desensitisation and counter-conditioning programmes with the use of dog appeasing pheromone for the treatment of firework fears in dogs (Canis familiaris). Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 105(4), 311-329. https://www.cabidigitallibrary.org/doi/full/10.5555/20073148492

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