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The whistle, boom, crackle and whizz of fireworks, not to mention the pop-pop-pop-pop of firecrackers, are enough to send many pets into a frenzy. Up to half of pet dogs react with fear to fireworks, according to a recent article in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior. One study reported that more than 15 percent of those dogs take several days or longer to recover from the experience.

Fear of loud noises, also known as noise phobia or noise aversion, is more common in dogs than cats, but some cats might display their fear by burrowing into the laundry basket in the basement. Pets that are afraid of fireworks are also likely to dislike other noises such as thunder and gunshots. If you have a pet that would rather forego the fireworks, we have some tips to help soothe your pet’s fear.

Signs of noise phobia

Many dogs (and cats as well) may choose to hide during fireworks. But others may display anxiety in other ways: They pant, pace, tremble, drool, or seek attention by pawing, whining and climbing onto people. Some may have accidents in the house.

Since dogs aren’t sure where the noise is coming from, those that are indoors may try to escape by leaping through a window or bolting out a door. In fact, one in five pets goes missing after experiencing loud noises, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). That’s why it’s important for your pet to have an ID tag and/or microchip that includes your current contact information before the fireworks begin.

Easing your pet’s anxieties

Whatever you do, try not to leave your pet alone on these stressful nights. Also, don’t give them any sedatives from your medicine cabinet without first consulting your veterinarian. Dogs and cats often don’t metabolize human medications the same way people do.

Finally, avoid punishing your pet if they’re acting out, this could exacerbate their fear. Here are some positive ways to help your pet:

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Long-term management

To help lower your pet’s stress level long-term, your veterinarian may also recommend a form of desensitization and counterconditioning. An example of desensitization is to expose the dog to an audio recording of fireworks at a very low volume so it doesn’t provoke fear. Over time, the dog should begin to ignore it. Gradually, over the course of several weeks, increase the volume.

At the same time, you can add counterconditioning, which involves pairing a positive stimulus, such as a treat or play, with a negative stimulus, like the sound of fireworks. Ideally, the dog will eventually replace its fearful response to loud noises with a more comfortable association.

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.