By Dr. Becker
Later this week, many of you will celebrate Independence Day by attending or hosting a party or backyard barbeque, then taking in a local fireworks display. Since July 4th falls on Thursday this year, some of you might even be planning a 4-day celebration with family and friends.
Before you get your party on, here is a quick refresher on how to make this 4th of July a safe, calm holiday for the 4-legged members of your family. A little forethought and preparation is all you need to keep your pet safe and sound during the festivities.
July 4th Pet Hazards
Alcohol. Make sure to keep all drinks with alcohol in them out of reach of your pet, and insist your guests do the same. “Adult beverages” can poison your dog or cat. Depending on how much is ingested, an animal can become very intoxicated, weak, depressed, and can even slip into a coma. Severe alcohol poisoning can result in death from respiratory failure.
Human sunscreen and insect repellent. Make sure to use products designed specifically for your dog or cat rather than human products. If your pet ingests a sunscreen product, it can cause excessive thirst, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy. Insect repellents containing DEET can result in neurological problems in pets.
Matches and lighter fluid. Some matches contain a substance called chlorate, which can damage blood cells, impair respiration, and even cause kidney disease. Lighter fluid can irritate your pet’s skin, and if ingested can cause GI upset and central nervous system depression. Inhaling lighter fluid can result in breathing difficulties and aspiration pneumonia.
People food. Even if your pet has a diverse diet and a well-conditioned GI tract, it’s best to keep party and barbeque foods out of reach. Feed your dog or cat her regular diet for the holiday, and be especially careful not to make potentially toxic people foods like chocolate, coffee, onions, grapes, raisins or bread dough accessible to your pet.
Costumes and glow jewelry. Don’t give your pet access to glow jewelry, which if eaten can cause excessive drooling, GI irritation, and potentially, intestinal blockage. Also think twice about dressing up your pet for July 4th. Unless your dog (or even less likely, your cat) loves to play dress-up, don’t force the issue. Make sure anything you dress your pet in is comfortably loose and doesn’t constrict movement in any way. Also remember it’s July and your pet can easily get overheated – especially if he’s wearing a costume.
Citronella. Always keep citronella candles, oils, and insect coils out of reach of your dog or cat. Ingestion can cause stomach irritation and potentially, central nervous system symptoms. Inhaling the oil can cause breathing difficulties and aspiration pneumonia in pets.
Fireworks. If your 4th of July celebration involves backyard fireworks, make sure your pet is safe indoors well ahead of time. Lit fireworks can result in severe burns and other injuries, and unused fireworks contain potentially toxic substances like potassium nitrate and arsenic. If you’re planning to watch a professional fireworks display, I highly recommend leaving your pet at home, indoors, where it’s quiet, familiar and safe. Loud, crowded public fireworks displays terrify and overwhelm many pets.
If Your Pet Has a Noise Phobia or a Specific Fear of Fireworks
It’s a very good idea to make sure your pet is well-exercised in the hours leading up to July 4th festivities. Since the temps are usually high in July, try a strenuous early morning hike with your dog or an afternoon swim. A tired pet will be calmer and less likely to engage in anxious or disruptive behaviors.
If your pet has a noise phobia, loud noises will elicit distress signs like shaking, barking or howling, excessive drooling, looking for a place to hide, or attempting to escape your home or yard.
If your pet has reacted in the past to fireworks, or if she has an established noise phobia that will likely extend to fireworks, you’ll want to take some extra precautions to preserve your anxious companion’s health and safety.
- Make sure your pet has a current ID tag. Every year on July 5th many dogs turn up miles from home -- afraid, disoriented, exhausted and dehydrated. And animal shelters across the U.S. get an influx of “July 4th dogs” who escaped during fireworks celebrations.
- Remember to feed and walk your dog in the late afternoon or early evening, well before the fireworks displays begin.
- Don’t leave your pet alone outside on July 4th. If he becomes frightened or panicked, even a fenced yard may not keep him safe. He could injure himself trying to escape. If he gets out he could run away, be hit by a car, or stolen by a stranger.
- Keep your pet inside the house, preferably in an inside room without windows. Create a little safe haven for your dog or cat with bedding, a few toys, and treats. Turn on a TV, radio or other music to help muffle the noise from outside. If possible, leave someone at home with your pet.
- If you absolutely must bring your pet along to the celebration, don’t leave her unattended in your car. There’s always the risk of heatstroke even if you crack your windows. And if your pet panics, she could hurt herself or cause damage to your vehicle.