Keeping Our Pets Calm During the Frenzied Fourth

Tomorrow, we Americans will mark our independence with a flurry of barbecues, beach blanket bingo and sis-boom-bah displays in the twilight sky.

But, for those furry family members who depend on us to keep them safe, the “home of the free” could become the home from which they’ll flee.

According to, animal control officials nationwide estimate a 30-60 percent spike in shelter intakes over the 4th of July holiday. This undue strain on an already burdened system has historically been attributed to our pets’ acute startle responses to our boisterous celebrations.

For one thing, cat’s and dog’s hearing tops human’s in the higher frequencies. Where the most attuned humans can perceive sounds up to 20,000Hz, dogs can detect sounds up to 45,000Hz and cats up to 79,000Hz. Complex muscle groups control the movement in a dog’s and cat’s pinnae (the outer shells of the ear) which both amplify sound and sweep the air like broadband radar. A perfect storm of sizzles and pops could send our pals hurdling over fences or tunneling under them to escape the din.

To assure a safe and sane holiday for all:

  • Keep dogs and cats close. Cuddling up with you or otherwise being bathed in the comforting scents and objects of home is the pet equivalent of our sitting down to a steaming bowl of mac ’n cheese when the going gets rough.
  • At the same time, you don’t want to smother your pet. Maintain a matter-of-fact attitude about the frenetic festivities around you. Your confidence is contagious and can help your pet draw upon his or her innate ability to self-soothe.
  • Turn on some low-level TV or music. The white-noise hum of the AC may be just enough to blunt the outdoor barrage.
  • Aroma therapy has shown promise in reducing pet’s stress. “Cat Daddy,” Jackson Galaxy, has co-developed a line of “Spirit Essences” to help turn down the volume in an anxious cat.
  • Wear your dog out. A run on the beach or hike in the hills and he may be too tired to react to what’s going on outside. Distract him with games or other activities and he may begin to associate otherwise unwelcome noises with playtime. If exhaustion or distraction fails, the snug fit of a ThunderShirt may be just enough to quell his quiver.
  • Pets with extreme reactivity to sound should be kept indoors. For less-sensitive pets, try enjoying fireworks from afar. In 2014 and last year my wife and I brought our Boston terrier, Lilly, with us to a small neighborhood park in the Burbank foothills about a mile away from the Starlight Bowl. Lilly cocked her head curiously to the distant colorful plumes bursting in air and she never quaked to the accompanying chorus which sounded more like Rice Krispies drowning in milk than all-out war on the horizon. Of course, always gage your pet’s tolerance before trying such desensitization techniques.

As with any celebration, our pets would probably rather ring ‘em in with a whimper than a bang.