The Fourth of July can be very fun—maybe you get a day off! maybe you get to sleep in! Maybe you get to go to the beach, or even Out Of Town!—but it is always, unavoidably and no matter how you slice it, very LOUD. And if you fail to understand why we as a nation insist on celebrating ourselves with thunderous displays of deafening lights, or by shooting small-but-mighty rockets at one another, then you can rest totally assured that your pets don't get it either. If you're anxious, they're anxious—wrap them in thunder shirts! Unless of course the obligation to wear human-like clothes sets their tiny teeth on edge.
Firework anxiety is a real thing for our small furry friends, who generally do not appreciate the enormous BANGS and tremendous POPS and the sudden flashes of light that accompany our Independence Day. It's all very startling for them, very inexplicable, very scary. Watch for signs of pet stress, Dr. Timnah Lee, a veterinarian with the Tribeca Soho Animal Hospital in Manhattan, advises: Raucous barking in dogs; excessive panting (even with the A.C. on); shaking; hiding; repeated yawning; and lip-licking, which might announce nausea.
Ideally, you will have done some prep work before the show begins—speaking to you veterinarian about the possibility of an anti-anxiety medication, for example, purchasing collars and ID tags in case your animal wards get loose—so that you can cruise into the harrowing 25-minute display with all hatches battened down. If you lost track of the fireworks shows planned in New York City this weekend, here are a few steps you can consider taking right now.
As always, your best bet is to shelter in place
Sure, you might want to drag your dog along to some of the public viewing spots where you and your buds will gather to absorb the spectacle, but fight that urge. "Make sure pets are inside and safe, as this is the biggest holiday where pets run away," Lee tells Gothamist. The explosive kabooms, in combination with the crush of people, could spook your pup (or your cat, if you are the kind of person who believes in feline constitutionals, but I think we can all agree that the Fourth is not the time for those) and cause it to bolt. If you absolutely cannot avoid having your pet outside, "make sure you have them in a harness and leash for optimal control," Lee advises. And definitely secure any backyard fences you might be relying on to keep them penned in.
Create as soothing an environment as possible
It's hot and humid out there, and you may definitely be out doing fun 4th of July activities like beaching, but please consider the small friend baking inside your apartment and come home in time to set the scene. Dog owners will want to wrap up the evening walk before nightfall, allowing their good boys and girls to empty their bladders before the nightmare eruption begins. This reduces the likelihood of accidents, and of having to take them out in the thick of the action.
Same goes for food: Feed your pets before show time. Anxiety in cats and dogs can kill their appetites. Also! With an eye toward the aforementioned panting, make sure they are adequately watered. (Maybe hydrating wet food over dry food as a special holiday treat?)
And now, on to the ambiance: When you live in New York and your walls are tissue-thin and your windows never seem to have been sealed in a meaningful way, there's unfortunately not a huge amount you can do about noise pollution. What you might consider, out of deference to your poor pup's wide and wild eyes, is closing the shades for the show. Yes, you probably want to see it! Yes, you are also responsible for your pet. If you don't want to shutter your windows, at least close them, and consider making your pal a nice little hovel to hide in for the show's duration. Maybe a closet, or an under-the-bed corner, outfitted with your pet's preferred toys, their blankets and/or bedding, even a you-scented item because no matter how much you love them, you probably don't want to force yourself at them during this very intense time. But! If they seek you out, you must hang with them. Low, comforting tones are recommended, and harsh, screamy commands are banned—even if they're being lil' heckboys due to sheer terror.
To the cat-owners, it might be helpful to reposition a litter box so your tiny tiger can slink out of their hiding place and relieve itself as needed.
Consider some back-up products
Thunder shirts are to pets what weighted blankets are to humans: Allegedly, the physical pressure relaxes a tense body by making it feel although it's being safely swaddled, cradled in a nice consensual hug. Some say that outfitting their pets in gear—either a little shirt or a little vest—that strategically hits certain of their pets' pressure points helps reduce anxiety in cacophonous events, such as thunderstorms or fireworks. Scientifically speaking, the jury is out on thunder shirts' efficacy, and Lee cautions that "not all pets respond to them." Indeed, if your pet—particularly your cat, because cats tend to be more averse to dress-up—does not take to clothes or harnesses, introducing the thunder shirt just before things get LOUD risks exacerbating their stress. On the other hand, if your pet is chill about little outfits, make sure its relaxation suit fits snugly.
You may also want to dish your pet some treats as a reward for being such a good sport about this onslaught of explosions, in which case Lee recommends a particularly calming ingredient: L- theanine, a "natural version of Xanas for pets." You can find it in Solliquin, and while Lee notes that it's most effective when you introduce your pet to it a few days before the actual event, well...we do our best.
As a cat owner, though, I know that wrestling your little monster into a necklace often means fighting a losing battle: When my longboi, Porkchop, was recently diagnosed with a kind of chronic anxiety disorder, his vet prescribed a Feliway diffuser—which disperses those same calming pheromones throughout his living room—and it...maybe sort of works? When I first plugged it in, Porkchop sat up on his back feet like a small bear and sniffed the air, then trundled over to the couch and bedded down for a nap. I would like to attribute this quiet moment to attribute to his mood-enhancing plug-in, when in fact it may have been the pain meds. In any case, it doesn't seem to have hurt, so if you have the means, maybe give it a spin. But above all, creating a secure and secluded spot for your pet seems to be of peak importance here. Just let them hide under the covers until the shitstorm passes.
For a complete list of July 4th pet safety tips, head on over to the ASPCA's website.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the 2022 fireworks schedule.