Independence Day is a time for celebration with family and friends, but one mustn’t neglect their friends of the furry variety.
“Unfortunately, the week of the Fourth of July is the heaviest week of the year as far as pets getting loose,” said Tiffani Hill, Glynn County Animal Control manager. “So for animal control, it’s our most difficult time of the year.”
Roy Scarborough, the South Coastal Georgia Humane Society’s staff behaviorist, backed up the claim.
“There’s a significant number of animals that go missing every year during the Fourth of July because they’re frightened and run away,” Scarborough said. “It’s the worst time of the year simply because of the environment, as well. I mean, it’s 99 degrees outside, and that’s pretty much normal. Dogs that are used to being inside can really suffer in the heat.
“We don’t really recommend taking your dog to a fireworks display. Some dogs are fine, but a lot of dogs back right out of their collars and are gone because they’re scared to death of the fireworks.”
The best thing a pet owner can do is to plan ahead thoroughly, he said.
“We need to be thinking ahead now for what’s coming up,” Scarborough said. “If you plan to have your dog outside in a fireworks area, or in a neighborhood with a prevalence of fireworks ... you want to make sure your dog has a collar with a tag on it with their name and your phone number, at the minimum. I highly recommend they have a microchip, because collars get lost.”
Animal control is still offering free microchip clinics at both the shelter on U.S. Highway 17 and in its mobile adoption unit. The shelter is open from noon to 5 p.m. on weekdays but will be closed on Thursday in observance of Independence Day.
Understanding what will reduce a pet’s stress level and what will only make it worse is key, Scarborough said. For instance, dogs aren’t big on hugging when they’re stressed.
“People are, dogs are not. When you try to just calm your dog down, if you engage in hugging or holding them, most dogs don’t like that. It actually increases their tension,” Scarborough said. “You want to kind of be beside your dog. They like contact, they like to touch, but keep it kind of short. Work on things like a massage on the back of the ear, petting the head, a rub on the tummy. That kind of stuff, just little things they find soothing and relaxing.”
The goal is to keep a dog from getting excited at all.
Scarborough also encouraged owners to avoid baby talk. The best thing one can do is act like everything is normal and like the loud noises outside are no big deal.
Pet owners should also set up a safe spot for their pets, Scarborough said. He recommended somewhere confined and dark, where they can curl up and hide. If an animal does hide, he said not to worry about it and certainly not to disturb them.
“Cats will go and hide, and if that happens, don’t worry about it. They’ll come out,” Scarborough said. “If you’ve got a cat, they may be the sweetest cat in the world, but if he’s scared to death because of all the shooting and fireworks going off, don’t try to pick him up and handle him. He can panic on you and scratch you up. A cat’s best left alone. Observed, but left alone.”
Hill recommended locking a pet up in their crate if they’re used to one.
Giving a dog treats to reinforce calm behavior is good, Scarborough said, but he warned against overfeeding, as throwing up can be even more stressful.
Having a TV on or music playing can also help to keep pets calm, Hill said. A little bit of normalcy can go a long way, she explained.
Owners should be careful not to turn the music or TV volume up too high in an attempt to drown out the noise, however. Scarborough said that can stress out a pet even more, as dogs have senses of hearing four times more sensitive than a human’s.
Some pet stores carry music specifically to calm pets. Scarborough recommended the CD “Through a Dog’s Ear,” which he said was composed by a dog behaviorist and a musician.
Hill also recommended using tools like the ThunderShirt, which can keep dogs calm during stressful situations not just limited to fireworks displays.
Scarborough also vouched for ThunderShirts but added that dogs should be wearing them well before the fireworks kick off. They’re designed to make pets feel like they’re being wrapped up, he explained, which can help keep them calm.
In place of a ThunderShirt, a pet’s owner can use a t-shirt they have worn and that smells like them, Hill said. She recommended tying it off at the back so it’s snug but not too tight.
“The feel and smell can be calming for many pets, especially dogs,” Hill said.
Lavender and valerian root essential oils are good for cats, Scarborough said, while some pet stores sell oils especially to calm both cats and dogs.
Some of his clients have claimed that CBD oils specifically for dogs and cats help a lot. He didn’t have any personal experience on which to base a recommendation but said it looked promising.
Stores like Pet Supplies Plus and PetSmart sell pheromones, which are also a great option to help calm a nervous pet, Hill said.
She recommended a brand called Feliway for cats, which the animal control shelter uses, while Scarborough vouched for Comfort Zone and Adaptil.
All three can be found in spray or a defuser form. Scarborough recommended the spray for those with pets who are not normally nervous.
“That also helps in if you’re traveling with pets, especially cats,” Hill said.