Preparing your cat for Fireworks
Updated: Mar 30, 2020
Usually when we think of pets being scared and shaking while there’s fireworks going off outside, we think of dogs. But what about cats? Your cat might also be frightened of fireworks and it makes sense that American animal shelters are the busiest on july 5th, this is down to dogs and cats who’ve ran away from their homes in fear or they’ve become disorientated and terrified from the sights, smells and sounds of the July 4th fireworks. November 5th in the UK is almost as bad, as is New Year’s Eve.
A time that is festive, fun and exciting for most people 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 holidays such as Bonfire night or Independance day.
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.
Let’s dig into the tips on keeping your cat calm and safe during fireworks. Firstly it’s best, obviously, to keep them inside. Start this a few days before the celebrations are due to start in case anyone begins letting the fireworks off early. Bear in mind that your cat may try to sneak outside or could even bolt in terror during loud noises, so be careful whilst opening and closing exterior doors while the celebrations are going on.
It might also be a good idea to stay home too, skip the local celebrations and keep your cat company. Even if they choose to hide under the bed upstairs and not interact with you, it’s safer to be home rather than leave them at home, and it may be comforting to them.
Next up, we all know trying to catch a cat who doesn’t want to be caught is like trying to catch water with your bare hands. During warm weather, even with secure screens, a cat may be able to escape in a panic so make sure your doors and windows are closed. 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 the curtains and blinds before the fireworks begin - this will help buffer the sound a tiny bit but will also help with unsettling flashes of light.
Providing a safe spot for your cat is really important during these times as 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 paper bags. Cut out the bottoms and tape the bags together to make a long tunnel.
Another way 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.
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.
Your cat may want to crawl in your lap and bury their head in the crook of your arm or they may prefer to stay firmly planted in the back of the closet without the desire for any physical connection. Provide the type of comfort they want - they’re frightened and may find comfort in just being stroked or in simply having you near. Comfort them the way they want 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.
Your cat is a little emotional sponge and they’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 them know all is safe in their world. Your invitation to play may be declined by the cat but try anyway because the game may be enticing enough to distract them. 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.
Pheromone Therapy is quite uncommon in most cat owners but can be really beneficial in calming your cats anxieties and giving them a familiar scent in their relaxing space. You can set up a pheromone 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.
One option is medication but ONLY in severe cases. 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.
Finally, after the fireworks are over, go outside and check 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.