Babies and pets might freak out during fireworks shows, but you can help them relax
Fido and Junior probably don't like explosions as much as you do.
Summer is officially here, which means the United States of America is preparing to celebrate its No. 1 event of the season: the Fourth of July.
If you’re the proud parent of a baby or share your home with a four-legged friend, you may be excited to enjoy a day of sunny weather and outdoor activity with them. But you may not be as thrilled about nighttime, when the loud explosions of colorful fireworks threaten your toddler’s precious sleep or your pet’s mental sanity. Preparedness is key to ensure all members of your family can enjoy firework season.
How to help babies deal with fireworks
Fireworks pose two risks to your child: permanent hearing damage and interrupted sleep. Which one you face will depend on whether you stay in or join the crowds for some good ol’ American fun.
For adventurous families who enjoy a bright spectacle in the sky, the first step is to get your baby earmuffs to protect their tender young ears. These coverings won’t drown out all noise, but they will reduce it enough to be manageable, and whatever sound does get through won’t cause permanent hearing damage.
Most firework shows also happen after bedtime, so following your baby’s routine no matter where you are can help them feel safe and comfortable. They may even sleep through the show. Make sure they eat right on schedule and put their pajamas on before you go out. If you can—and it’s part of your routine—take the time for a bedtime story in a quiet place, like a car. Once you’re out and about, consider tenting the stroller with a blanket to block the light and help them sleep.
[Related: For better sleep, borrow the bedtime routine of a toddler]
If your baby can’t doze off, do what you need to do to soothe them—every baby’s different, so make sure you’re doing whatever will help them feel safe. And if your baby’s inconsolable, it may be time to retreat. Going back to a car can provide enough soundproofing for them to fall asleep, but if that doesn’t work, you will probably have to head home and call it a night.
Now, if you and your family prefer to avoid the boisterous crowds and just stay home, the only risk you run is having those fireworks interrupt your child’s sleep and, consequently, yours as well.
Just as you would any other day, make sure to follow your kid’s bedtime routine, as that will prompt them to fall asleep more easily. If they enjoyed themselves all day playing with friends and family, they’ll probably be tired enough to sleep through the show. If you have a noise machine, this is the perfect time to use it—crank up that volume to help drown out the explosions outside. But don’t overdo it. Use your phone to make sure the sound is below 50 decibels in your baby’s room, as that is the maximum recommended noise level for infants.
The good news is that, depending on how old your baby is, there’s a good chance they won’t even notice there are loud explosions in the distance. Starting at three or four months, babies start to go through longer stretches of deep sleep during the night, meaning that they might be seriously out when the fireworks start. Here’s hoping yours is one of those kids.
How to prepare and soothe your fur babies during firework season
Strangely enough, protecting your pets from the loud noises of fireworks may be even more complicated than ensuring your baby sleeps through them.
Some cats seem to be scared of thunder and fireworks, but dogs are especially likely to react negatively to them.
“Dogs hear more than twice as many frequencies as people, and they also hear about four times farther away,” says Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer at the American Kennel Club. “Fireworks are loud, unpredictable, and threatening to many dogs, though some dogs have less sensitivity to them.”
The loud noises and bright lights might induce severe bouts of anxiety, which in the worst cases can result in your beloved four-legged friend bolting away from you in fear. If your pet has a history of severe anxiety, leave them indoors during fireworks. Make sure all windows, doors, and pet flaps are secured, so that they cannot go out and run the risk of getting lost or run over by a car.
Before any explosions happen, make sure you close the curtains and turn on the TV or radio to drown out as much noise as possible. Then, build a den so your pet can hide if they want to. It can be a crate or any nook in your home where they can lie down and feel safe. Make sure you make the space as cozy as possible—add a bed or blankets, and leave treats and toys around so they can distract themselves.
“Bathrooms are often places that are pretty soundproof,” says Katherine Houpt, professor emeritus at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “Some dogs will go there and even jump in the tub.”
If you can, ensure the room where you’re building their den is a dark, quiet space. Klein also suggests people with cats confirm there aren’t any inaccessible areas where their pet might choose to hide—open holes in the wall, for example—as they might be able to get in but have a hard time getting out. Some dogs and most cats will prefer to seek out comfort and safety by themselves, so if that’s the case with your fur baby, make sure they’re OK, and leave them alone until they feel it’s time to come out.
On the other hand, some dogs will want to stay close to their humans. If that’s the case with your pooch, be empathetic and give them the attention they need. Containing an anxious dog while fireworks explode outside may end up being frustrating, but Klein says you should never scold a dog when it is stressed.
“Consider giving basic commands such as ‘sit’ or ‘down’ to give them a feeling of order, or give them a toy or puzzle treat to divert the attention as much as possible,” he explains.
If you have a cat that needs extra help, Klein says catnip can make your feline friend feel “almost drunk.” But to achieve that effect, you’ll have to give them the herb at least 30 minutes before the fireworks, and timing can be tricky. Houpt doesn’t recommend catnip at all, as it is not a sedative and can make kitties even more excited.
Other preventive tactics for both dogs and cats focus first on keeping your pet from running away and providing enough information to find them if they do. Start by making sure you’ve equipped your fur baby with a microchip embedded by your veterinarian, and checking that the information associated with the device is up to date. Then, equip your best buddy with proper external identification—make sure their tag is legible and all the information (ideally, your phone number and address) is up to date.
Next, make sure their collar is durable. If it looks like it might rip if caught on a branch or nail, it’s time to get a new one. Likewise, you’ll need to make sure the collar is on properly. That means snug enough so it doesn’t come off over your pet’s head, and loose enough to be comfortable. If you want to go the extra mile, buy an AirTag- or GPS-compatible collar so you can locate your pupper or kitty-cat more easily.
[Related: Best dog collars of 2022]
No matter if you’re in someone’s backyard or a public space, it’s always a good idea to keep your dog tightly leashed and nearby during a firework show. And never tie your dog up, Houpt says, noting that there have been cases of tied-up dogs that jump over a fence or down a porch and end up choking to death from the restraint around their necks.
If your dog doesn’t have a history of anxiety and you feel comfortable enough to let them off-leash, only do so in an enclosed space after making sure that all entrances and exits are blocked. Keep in mind that dogs may dig their way under fences and yard doors, so be aware of all potential escape routes.
“Because [fireworks are] a much stronger stimulus [than thunder], usually the owner is not enough to calm them down—the dog just tries to get away from it,” says Houpt.
The best place for you to be during a fireworks show if your dog has severe anxiety is indoors with them, so you can show them they’re safe. But if you have to leave them behind, your pet might need some extra help.
Research has shown that dogs start producing endorphins whenever they feel moderate-to-deep pressure against their back and sides, and that can help them manage anxiety. Compression shirts or anxiety wraps can cause this effect, making them the first option for noise-reactive canines. Houpt doesn’t recommend cannabidiol (CBD) products for doggos, as studies have found it to be ineffective against anxiety and noise reactivity. She doesn’t recommend over-the-counter medications either, as you may need to give them to your dog for weeks before you see results, and that’s a much more expensive solution. Even then, these types of medication might calm your dog down under normal circumstances, but do absolutely nothing when louder, more intense noises come into play.
For a more serious solution, Houpt recommends talking to your vet about selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which humans also take to manage anxiety. This type of drug also works on dogs, and it might be especially important if your pooch will be exposed to fireworks while home alone.