FIREWORKS FALLOUT: Bright lights and big noises can leave pets cowering | Lifestyles

It’s two weeks before Independence Day, and fireworks are already popping. That’s bad news for dogs and cats – not to mention for the many people who find the explosions and sparkling lights fear-inducing rather than fun. Take steps now to positively condition your pet to the holiday sounds and help them remain calm. Here’s what you can do.

– Provide positive exposure to sounds. Just exposing your pet to scary sounds such as fireworks can easily backfire. Instead, provide gradual exposure to recordings of fireworks, paired with rewards such as special treats (break out the deli turkey or roast chicken), a favorite game, or a meal.

– Go low and slow. Play the recording at very low volume, perhaps even in another room so that it’s barely audible. (Don’t forget that your dog or cat’s hearing is much more sensitive than your own.) Offer rewards during this time. Gradually increase the sound intensity. You want your pet to stay relaxed and happy. If your pet seems fearful, go back to a volume at which they were comfortable or increase their distance from the noise. Depending on your pet’s level of sensitivity, this process can take days, weeks or months, so be patient.

– Offer a “spaw” room. Depending on the animal, you may not be able to condition your pet to the sound of fireworks in time for this year’s displays. But you can still provide them with a cozy retreat where they can relax away from the sound and sight of fireworks. This can be a small area such as a closet or bathroom without windows, or another room set up with everything they like and need: food, water, a bed, a couple of favorite puzzle toys or chews, and an open crate or “pup “tent for pets who like snug spots. For cats, include a scratching post and litter box. Limit the outside view by closing curtains or blinds. Turn on lights in the room to decrease the contrast of light flashes from fireworks or lightning. Leave doors open so pets can enter and exit freely; you don’t want them to feel trapped. Hang out with pets in this room on a regular basis (not just during fireworks or thunderstorms) and hide food rewards for them to find so they develop pleasant associations with being there.

– Enhance the environment. Buffer outdoor noise with calming music (you can find music composed especially for pets, such as at, a white-noise machine or a soothing television show such as “Sesame Street,” “The Muppet Show,” the Food Channel , HGTV, the Hallmark Channel, “The Mandalorian” or “Mr. Bean.” (The last two recommendations are based on research by design company Wren Kitchens.) Synthetic pheromones are also available for dogs and cats. You can spray a pet’s bedding or crate with them (while the bed or crate is empty) or purchase a diffuser that emits the calming chemical messages. Lacking pheromone products, you can try soothing scents such as lavender or chamomile. Learn more here:

– Give a hug. Not with your arms – pets don’t especially like that – but with a close-fitting compression garment or T-shirt. For some pets, these garments can provide a feeling of comfort. It’s worth a try. It’s also OK to pet or speak soothingly to animals when they’re frightened; it’s a myth that doing so will reinforce your pet’s fear.

– Supplements and medications. For pets with profound fireworks fears, talk to your veterinarian about nutraceuticals (foods or supplements with health benefits) or medications that can help. Try them beforehand to see how your pet reacts to their effects.

These techniques can also help pets with fears of thunderstorms, gunshots or other loud or unpredictable sounds. For severe cases, you can find help from a trainer or veterinary behaviorist through the directory at

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Give your cat

some greens

Q: My cat loves to nibble on plants. What are some safe ways to allow her to indulge her love of greenery?

A: That’s a great question. Cats, despite being obligated carnivores who require meat in their diets, are also fans of a nice salad once in a while. They enjoy plants for nibbling, sniffing and playing, and you have several options to keep them happy.

For chewing, offer a pot of tender grass seedlings: rye, alfalfa and wheat. Place it in a sunny spot so your cat can take a nap after her nibble.

Cats may also enjoy sniffing and chewing herbs such as parsley and thyme, which are easily grown indoors. Grow different varieties and see which ones your cat likes best. Cat thyme (not a true thyme) and lemongrass are also feline favorites.

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a natural, of course. Let it reach full growth out of reach of your cat, then snip off pieces to give for her enjoyment. You can also stuff the leaves into toys or rub them on a cat tree or scratching post – a practice that has been found to increase scratching time. There’s no such thing as an overdose of catnip, so let your cat bliss out as much as she wants.

Cats also enjoy valerian (Valeriana officinalis), silver vine (Actinidia polygama) and tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica is the only variety that seems to have an effect on cats). If you have a cat, consider planting one or more of these plants around or in it to give your cat an olfactory thrill.

Give your cat the greens she wants, and make the rest less attractive to her by hanging them up high or otherwise out of reach. Now you can both enjoy greenery. – Dr. Marty Becker

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Keep pets safe

on moving day

– Are you moving this summer? Don’t forget to think about your pets’ needs on moving day. At your new home, choose one room that you can set up for your pets and stock it with their bedding, toys, litter box and scratching post for cats, and food and water. The familiar items and smells will help them relax. A diffuser with calming pheromones is a good idea, too. Let them settle in there with the door closed while you’re unpacking boxes and getting furniture moved in. That way, you don’t have to worry about Baxter or Basil sneaking out a door when no one’s looking and getting lost.

– You love your dog, but you also love your lawn and garden. Take both into account when planning landscaping. Think about how your dog traverses your yard: If he loves to run the fence line, leaving a well-worn trail, don’t fight the behavior. Place plants out away from the fence and let him patrol behind them. Hate yellow spots where your dog urinates? Dilute the urine by flushing the area right away with fresh water. (For folks in drought-stricken areas, this is a great way to use water you’ve collected in a bucket after a shower. Use it to fill a watering can daily and rinse pee spots without guilt.) Finally, for borders, use plants capable of standing up to being trod on and that will release a pleasant smell when your dog runs roughshod over them. Think mint or thyme. Your local garden center can suggest others.

– To pick up a cat, place one hand behind the front legs and one beneath the hindquarters and lift gently. Mother cats may carry kittens by the neck scruff, but humans who do that run the risk of injuring the cat. – Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.


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