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Published: Jun 22, 2012

As America celebrates its independence this Fourth of July, it seems only natural to include pets in the celebrations. Although cats and dogs seem like part of the family every other day of the year, they may need some special treatment on this holiday. Higher numbers of pets turn up at shelters the days following July 4, and many others become traumatized by the fireworks displays. However, by taking certain precautions, owners can make this holiday a happy one for all members of the family.

Understanding the fear of fireworks

Dogs are more likely than cats to be frightened by fireworks, but both species can be stressed by the cracks and booms that echo across the sky. This fear may cause a dog or cat to injure itself trying to seek refuge.  All pets are better off at home rather than attending fireworks displays with their families.

Shelters and animal control agencies across America tend to see an increase in stray and lost dogs right after July 4, usually because dogs will escape their home or yard when they panic over the thunderous booms. To increase the chance your pet will be returned to you if they are lost, VCA Animal Hospitals encourages all owners to properly identify their pet with a microchip and identification tags with up-to-date contact information.

Creating a safe haven at home

To prevent escape or injury, set up a safe, secure and comforting environment for your pet at home. Having a familiar human there to comfort and supervise cats and dogs during these events is ideal, too.

However, if the entire family is heading out to watch the fireworks, make sure your home is secure and your dog or cat has a cozy, safe retreat should they become stressed during the fireworks. For cats, this might be a miniature cave inside a piece of cat furniture or a warm bed in a quiet room. Dogs tend to get comfort from a den-like atmosphere, so set up its crate or kennel with blankets, toys and other familiar objects that might take its mind off the loud noises.

Reduce the animal's anxiety

If this is your first Fourth with your pet, you might be unsure about how it will react. If the dog or cat has ever seemed fearful during thunderstorms or other loud noises, prepare yourself for anxiety on Independence Day. Some veterinarians will recommend sedative medications for pets with a history of anxiety.

If you're unsure whether your cat or dog will be anxious or don't want to use medication, you may be able to minimize a negative reaction by exercising and feeding your pet well before the show. Tired animals will have less energy to become stressed and it will be easier for them to relax.