—Feline Behavior Specialist 🇺🇸
July 4th, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and many other holidays involve delicious food, friends, family, and fireworks. Whether in someone’s backyard or at a park, these experiences can be exciting and fun for people of all ages but very difficult for pets.
We’ll take a look at what you can do to help your cat cope with the sights and sounds that accompany fireworks.
#1 Desensitize your cat to loud sounds.
Yes, you can train cats! Start by playing fireworks or other loud sounds at low volume and reward your cat with treats. Do this each day while slowly increasing the volume.
If your cat shows any signs of fear, you’ll need to go back a step, turning down the sound and trying again.
The key to this type of counter conditioning is that it must be gradual to be the most effective. If you rush the process, you’ll decrease the likelihood that it works. The goal is that eventually, your cat is unaffected by the sound.
#2 Close windows and doors.
Many animals go missing during fireworks shows because the sounds scare them and they bolt. Make sure you close all windows and doors around holidays that may have fireworks.
If your cat seems scared of fireworks, you can close curtains and shades so they can’t see them either. If you’re having a get-together where people are coming in and out of your residence, you should:
- Make sure everyone knows you have cats.
- Keep your cats in an area of the house where they will feel safe and not have the opportunity to go outside.Places like finished basements or spare bedrooms are great for this.
#3 Turn up the volume on familiar sounds.
One thing that can help cats during fireworks is to pump up the volume of sounds they’re used to.
Put on some music they like (or that you like and they’re familiar with), or put on your favorite show and up the volume.
The goal here is to drown out the fireworks and prevent your cat from getting scared. You don’t want to make the familiar sounds so loud they scare your cat, but upping the volume a few notches may be enough to lessen the impact of the explosions happening outside.
#4 Provide access to a safe space or their favorite hiding spot.
Most cats have at least one place they go if scared. While I recommend blocking off these areas when there isn’t an actual threat (and encouraging your cat to interact with you), fireworks are a different scenario. They are not common and can be very scary, especially if the desensitization exercises mentioned in #1 don’t work.
Make sure your cat has access to their favorite hiding spot, whether that’s under the bed, in the closet, or anywhere else they feel safe. You should prep the area with a cat bed or blanket, water fountain, and even a litter box close by.
Having items with their scent around them will help them feel secure, and with the litter box in close proximity, they are less likely to go outside of it.
They may be too scared to venture to their normal litter box location, so this will give them the opportunity to still use their box without leaving their safe space.
#5 Talk to your vet about medication.
If you’ve tried a variety of methods and nothing seems successful, talk to your vet about meds that lower your cat’s anxiety.
Ask them about gabapentin, alprazolam, or any other meds that are options for short-term use. They will advise you on the proper timing of the dosage to make sure it’s most effective during the peak of the firework extravaganza.
Oftentimes, these meds can be administered before travel or vet appointments to decrease anxiety, so they’re a good thing to keep on hand.
#6 Hire a cat sitter if you’re out of town.
If you’re away for the holidays, make sure you have a reliable cat sitter who can make sure your doors and windows are closed, the safe spot is set up, and any needed meds are administered. This will be one less thing for you to worry about while you’re on vacation.
While fireworks are a sign of celebration, your cat likely doesn’t feel the same way.
Take the steps we discussed to help your cat feel as comfortable as possible and keep them safe. Then, all family members will enjoy the holiday.
Article by Elizabeth Italia 🙋♀️
Cat Behavior & Fostering Specialist