Fireworks and Chaos — Protect Your Pet From Harm

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Story at-a-glance

  • It’s the 4th of July, a happy occasion for most people, but for pets, not so much
  • I know you want to keep your furry family members safe, calm and happy today, so I’m offering a few simple safety tips I hope will be helpful

The truth is most animal companions are frightened and even traumatized by fireworks, so I'm kind of hoping they get a reprieve this year as people stay closer to home and continue to practice social distancing. Many July 4th social gatherings will be canceled, but if you do plan to attend a professional fireworks display in your area, I recommend leaving your pet safely inside your house.

Even normally laidback animals can become scared and disoriented by the noise, lights, and crowds involved in a fireworks display. You certainly don't want to frighten your pet or put him in a situation where he might try to escape or become aggressive due to fear.

Pets left at home can be frightened of loud noises in the distance that seem to go on forever the evening of July 4th. Your dog or cat has much sharper hearing than you do, so sudden loud sounds can be unsettling, especially for older animals.

If your 4th of July celebration involves backyard fireworks, make sure your pet is safe indoors well ahead of time. Ignited fireworks can result in severe burns and other injuries, and unused fireworks contain potentially toxic substances like potassium nitrate and arsenic.

Signs your pet is afraid of fireworks or other loud noises include shaking, vocalizing (barking or howling), excessive drooling, looking for a place to hide, or escape attempts.

Countless Pets are Lost Every Year on July 4th

Two steps you should take to ensure your dog or cat is still around on July 5th:

1. Don't allow your pet outside, especially after dark — If she'll be within range of the sights and sounds of fireworks, try to secure her in a room without windows. Create a safe haven with bedding, a toy or two, and a few treats. Turn on a TV, radio, or music to help muffle the noise from outside.

Leave someone at home with your pet if possible, but whatever you do, don't leave her outside alone. If she becomes frightened, even a fenced yard may not keep her safe. Dogs have been injured while making panicked attempts to escape their yard, and those who succeed can run away, be hit by a car, or stolen by a stranger.

2. Make sure she's wearing identification — In the event your pet is lost during all the confusion and commotion of July 4th festivities, make sure she can be identified with an up-to-date ID collar or tag, permanent tattoo, or microchip. Even if you feel there's no way in the world she can escape, it's better to be safe than sorry.

Every year on July 5th many dogs turn up miles from home — scared, disoriented, exhausted, and dehydrated. And animal shelters across the U.S. get an influx of "July 4th dogs" who made their escape at the first sound of fireworks.

Common Holiday Pet Hazards

Certain people foods — Even if your pet has a varied diet and a resilient digestive tract, it's best to keep party and barbequed foods out of reach. Feed your dog or cat her regular diet for the holiday, and be especially careful to keep potentially toxic people foods like chocolate, coffee, onions, grapes, raisins, and bread dough away from four-legged family members.

Alcohol — Keep all adult beverages out of reach of your pet, and make sure your guests do the same. Alcohol is poison to dogs and cats. Depending on how much is ingested, your pet can become very intoxicated, weak, depressed, and even comatose. Severe alcohol poisoning can result in death from respiratory failure.

Human sunscreen and insect repellent — Make sure to use a sunscreen designed specifically for dogs and cats, not products made for humans. 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, lighter fluid and the barbeque grill — Some matches contain chlorate, a substance that can damage blood cells, impair respiration, and even cause kidney disease. Lighter fluid can irritate your pet's skin, and if ingested can cause gastrointestinal (GI) upset and central nervous system depression.

Inhaling lighter fluid can result in breathing difficulties and aspiration pneumonia. Consuming the contents of the grill grease trap is a common cause of summertime pancreatitis in dogs, so make sure to keep yours away from the grill.

Citronella — Always keep citronella candles, oils, and insect coils out of reach of your dog or cat. Ingestion can cause stomach irritation, vomiting and secondary aspiration pneumonia and potentially, central nervous system symptoms in pets.

Costumes and glow jewelry — Don't give your pet access to glow jewelry, which if eaten can cause excessive drooling, gastrointestinal (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 even without a costume.

Additional Suggestions

It's a 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, or has reacted in the past to fireworks, you'll want to take some extra precautions to preserve your anxious pet's health and safety, including remembering to feed and walk her well before the fireworks displays begin.



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