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Cats and Fireworks


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Dogs are generally more willing and able to reveal their emotions to us. Cats may mask how they’re really feeling, or we may misinterpret. When talking about fear of fireworks usually the conversations are dogcentric – but cats can lose their lives in several different ways just because there are fireworks outdoors.

Anytime, there’s a sudden unexplained change cats may become anxious and that anxiety may cause a medical issue known as feline interstitial cystitis. It simply hurts to urinate, in part, due to inflammation of the bladder. “We know that unpredictable loud noises can cause feline interstitial cystitis,” says Dr. Dew Weigner, feline veterinarian in Atlanta, GA and president of non-profit funder of cat health studies, the Winn Feline Foundation. “And from the cats’ perspective, there’s nothing quite as unpredictable as fireworks.”

What’s more, this year the fireworks – in some places around the country – began weeks ago and may continue several days or even longer after the Fourth. “Of course, two or three days is easier to tolerate than two to three weeks” Weigner adds.

Cystitis can be painful and when it hurts to urinate in the box, cats likely associate the box with the pain, and may not go back there.

Fireworks Are the Straw that Break the Cats’ Emotional Backs

In many of these instances cats might have had other medical and/or psychological stressors happening in their lives, and the fireworks just happens to be that one more thing to push them over the edge. And some of those cats may not immediately return to using the box after the fireworks sounds go away unless the other issues are now dealt with. Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kelly Ballantyne in Chicago, IL says it’s important to contact your veterinarian for advice and very possibly a physical exam. “Behavior is very often the first sign of a medical issue,” she says.

“Sudden unexpected changes can create anxious behaviors in cats, but we might not notice them, or think twice about it” Weigner adds.

We don’t notice because the cat spends time under a bed or out of site anyway; we think it’s what cats do. “When they’re scared cats will decrease activity and often they will hide,” says Ballantyne, who is a contributing author of the Decoding Your Cat. In fact, we can do our cats a favor by providing a suitable hiding place.”

While many cats can easily find a comfortable hiding place on their own, others will appreciate you providing a one, such as manufactured cat tunnel or cat tent (available at pet stores and online), even a paper sack can do the trick. There’s even a way to fashion an old t-shirt over a small box.

Ballantyne, who is a veterinary behaviorist and one of many members of the specialty behavior college who contributed to authoring Decoding Your Cat, says if the cat seems comfortable hiding and riding out the storm of fireworks, leave well enough alone. “Never try to force the cat out of hiding. You might want to add a litter box to very close to that hiding spot, and also place food and water nearby.”

If the cat is hiding but appears terrified and is inconsolable, and isn’t interested in eating, contact your veterinarian.

For all cats who are afraid of fireworks, consider cats hear better than we do, so the firework sounds to cats’ sense of hearing of cacophonous.

Close the windows, and turn on something for background. We know cats can be calmed by classical music (perhaps from your own personal collection), and there’s also music specifically made to calm cats which can be found on various YouTube channels and iCalmPet. Not only does the music diminish the fireworks sounds, it’s calming.

Distraction Can Help

You might also consider turning your favorite talk radio station on as background, or the TV. Some cats might even be distracted by watching videos of birds or lizards.

Toilet paper tube and yogurt cup creativity

To even more successfully distract cats, an interactive fishing pole-type toy or a food puzzle. If you don’t have time to purchase a food puzzle, you can make one. Assuming your cat won’t ingest cardboard or paper, fold the ends of an empty toilet or paper towel tube and cut out two holes in the center. Drop whatever your cats’ favorite treats are inside, and show your cat how to roll the tube so the treats fall out.  When cats are distracted by one thing, they won’t focus on another.

Feliway, which is a copy of naturally occurring cat cheek pheromones, will lower anxiety – helping cats to feel more comfortable in their own surroundings.

As their website says, Zylkene helps pets to find their “zen.”  Zylkene is a nutraceutical that contains bovine-sourced hydrolyzed milk protein, an ingredient which has been shown to have calming properties, like great granny used to say “If you’re upset drink a glass of warm milk.” Great granny was right.

Anecdotal reports are that CBD for pets may help to relieve anxiety. Well, maybe. There’s no published science regarding this – at least not yet. Also, beware not all CBD products are the same. See your veterinarian for the right choice.

Calm a Cat: Save a Life

So, how can lose their lives having to do with the Fourth and fireworks? Cats most common cause of death is behavior, and as a result the human animal bond is fractured and the cat is relinquished to an animal shelter. And the most common behavior problem is inappropriate elimination, cats having accidents outside the box.

Also, on the Fourth, indoor cats get out, and may be lost. Unfortunately, cat parents tend to not microchip or use ID tags in cats. And lots of cats go missing on the Fourth, as they may bolt out an open door or window when the sudden noise occurs. As for indoor/outdoor cats, if there was anytime to get them inside, this is it.

Simply put cats don’t like unpredictable changes, and especially when they are loud. It’s no wonder that many cats are fearful of fireworks. You can’t stop the fireworks but you can help your cat. Cats and fireworks isn’t discussed often enough.

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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