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Many people love celebrating holidays—especially if they involve fireworks. For cats, however, holidays with fireworks can take on an entirely different tone: one of fear and anxiety.
This fear can lead to dangerous situations. A scared cat is more likely to run away from home and get lost, which increases their chances of harm from cars, predators, or illness.
Are All Cats Scared of Fireworks?
The fear of fireworks is a noise phobia for cats—but not all cats experience it. Some cats will sleep calmly through holidays like New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July, while others will melt down in fear.
If you haven’t yet encountered fireworks with your cat, it is best to plan for the worst (extreme fear of fireworks) and hope for the best (the usual cat-like ability to sleep through anything).
Tips for Keeping Your Cat Calm and Safe During Fireworks
Cats and fireworks are not usually a good combination, so here are some tried and true tips for making sure you both stay calm during the next big celebration.
Make sure your cat is microchipped.
Microchips are amazing little devices that have helped many lost animals return home safely to their owners. They are small implants (about the size of a grain of rice) that your veterinarian places under the skin, between the animal’s shoulder blades. Getting your cat microchipped should have no effect on your cat.
Microchips are inert, meaning they are not active tracking devices that send out signals. However, most veterinarians and shelters have the right equipment to scan cats for microchips. If your cat is microchipped, the person who scans them will be able to access your cat’s information, including your contact information.
It's important to remember that microchips are only as good as the humans who keep the information up to date. Every time you change your address, email, or phone number, make sure to update the microchip’s database, usually through an online portal.
Many people think that because their cat is an indoor cat, there is no need for a microchip. But accidents can happen, and pets can escape out of a loose window screen, burst out of their carrier on the way to the vet clinic, or slip out an open door. Missing cats can easily lose their collars, but a microchip (and its lifesaving information) remains with them forever. It’s a good idea to have a collar and a tag with your info on it, as well as getting your cat microchipped, for the best odds that you will be reunited.
Bring your cat indoors.
Even if your cat is usually an outdoor cat, bring them inside your home before fireworks begin. You don’t want your cat to be injured by the fireworks or run away and get lost because they got scared of the noise.
Some people who have very young children begin their festivities early so the kids can enjoy them before their bedtime. Aim to have your cat inside by early afternoon on days you expect fireworks.
Create safe hiding spots.
Hiding is a natural behavior for cats. Being able to get away and hide from something scary reduces the fear and stress fireworks can cause.
Creating a hiding spot can be as simple as placing a cat bed inside a plain cardboard box on its side, or draping a blanket over a laundry basket so your cat can burrow in.
Don’t be offended if your cat ignores your hiding spot. Cats will be cats and will hide wherever they want. All you can do is create spots for them and wait. They generally love to have new things to explore, and environmental enrichment like hiding spots will help strengthen your shared bond.
Seal off any unsafe hiding spots.
While it’s good for cats to have plenty of hiding spaces to choose from, you also have to make sure they can’t access any that are not safe. Check that your cat can’t get up under the roof or into a crawlspace. Sometimes cats run between appliances or into small spaces where they can’t turn around to get out. If you know your house has these types of hazards, close off those sections of the house for the duration of the fireworks display.
Don't confine your cat to a small space or room.
You may think that it’s best to keep your cat in one room during fireworks, but it’s best not to do this. Cats hate to be confined, and being placed in small areas can exponentially increase their anxiety and fear. Allow them access to a few safe rooms in your house so they can move around and choose one or more hiding spots as needed.
Try giving your cat calming treats/supplements.
Calming treats and supplements can be purchased over the counter at your local pet store or online. Many of these treats contain items such as C3 Calming Complex, L-theanine, thiamine, chamomile, and other ingredients that help reduce stress.
Test out the treats/supplements on a normal day, well in advance of an anticipated fireworks show. Watch for how they affect your cat when your cat is already calm and relaxed. This will help you gauge how your cat will react to them in a stressful situation.
Use a pheromone diffuser.
Cats use the scent glands on either side of their face to mark items and places as safe and familiar, and to mark the boundaries of their territory. Spraying a synthetic pheromone mist into a place they like to hide offers a sense of security, provides stability, and reassures a scared cat. Synthesized cat pheromone sprays, such as Feliway, can be bought over the counter and online.
Scents such as lavender and catnip have been found to relax cats and increase their sleep time. They can also sometimes bring out the playfulness in cats.
Try a catnip spray or a calming spray with lavender scent that is made specifically for cats. Cats can get used to a smell within 1-3 hours (like humans who go “nose-blind” to scents we are around often).
To increase the efficacy of aromatherapy, introduce the scents right as the fireworks are beginning. Make sure your cat cannot eat or lick any essential oils—these can be toxic or cause stomach upset.
Use veterinary-prescribed medications to reduce fear and anxiety.
If your cat is still extremely fearful no matter what you do, try reaching out to your veterinarian to ask for an anxiety medication that can be dosed prior to these stressful events.
Medications such as benzodiazepines, GABA analogs, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly used in both human and veterinary medicine to reduce anxiety and fear.
Use training techniques such as counter-conditioning and desensitization.
Cats can be trained! It’s possible to undo a learned behavior (such as fear when fireworks are shot off) and replace it with a more relaxed one. However, this type of training needs to be done weeks to months before a scary event occurs.
Try playing a recording of fireworks very softly (so your human ears can barely hear it) and treat your cat with their absolute favorite treat while the fireworks play. Once your cat is comfortable with that noise level, increase it by tiny increments over time—and keep the delicious food and rewards flowing.
If your cat shows signs of fear, such as salivating, panting, pulling their ears back, widening their pupils, or tucking their tail, do not punish or reward your cat for the fearful behavior. Just drop the volume to a level that’s comfortable for your cat and start again.
Cats and Fireworks Safety
Aside from the noise, fireworks can be physically dangerous to your cat. Make sure your cat is safely indoors so they do not encounter active fireworks. Cats hit by fireworks can lose hair and get severe burns, as well as experience trauma.
The debris created by used fireworks is also dangerous. Check that you have cleaned up every piece of debris before allowing your cat back outdoors again. Even though a firework looks like it has been used, it may still be smoldering inside or be hot to the touch.
Finally, spent fireworks are poisonous to cats if eaten. Hazardous chemicals such as potassium nitrate, chlorate salts, and barium are used to make the beautiful colors. Fireworks may also contain charcoal or sulfur. If you see your cat eat part of a firework, take them immediately to a veterinarian.
Campbell B, Hacker J, Helms T, Steffes Z. Fear of Fireworks. UC Davis Veterinary Medicine; UC Davis Clinical Behavioral Service. [n.d.]
Overall K. Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals. Mosby. 1997.
Weiss E, Mohan-Gibbons H, Zawistowski S. Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff. Wiley Blackwell. 2015.
Featured Image: iStock.com/IvanJekic