Fireworks, The 4th, and Your Pet: 6 tips for safety
The 4th of July is easily one of my favorite holidays. I love swimming with my kids in the pool or riding the waves with them at the beach, snacking on fresh fruit and juicy cheeseburgers, and spending time with family and friends. I haven’t stayed awake to watch the fireworks in years, but they are also one of my favorite parts of the 4th. My dog, however, does not share the same enjoyment. I have always had at least one dog who was terrified of fireworks (and thunderstorms too) and that always caused me a bit of anxiety when I knew the 4th of July week was coming up. Over the years I found ways to lessen his fears, so I wanted to share those with you as well other tips to keep your fur baby safe on the 4th.
1. Keep your dog inside
It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But many times the loud popping of fireworks begins and as your husband is walking in with a platter of cheeseburgers, fresh off the grill, your dog darts out faster than you can say, “no!!!!” If you know your dog or cat has a noise phobia, please make sure they are in a safe and secure location inside your home. If your dog is crate trained and finds peace there, that is your best bet. If your cat (yes, cats have noise phobias too!) does spend some of his/her time outdoors, make sure they are inside on the 4th. Cats usually like to hide, so making sure they are indoors helps keep them safe. I find that playing classical music in the background helps the calming vibes flow.
2. Make sure your pet is wearing proper identification
We just decided your pets are staying indoors on the 4th, but accidents (and escapes) do happen! Have a collar on your dog with your contact information (phone number and address) – this is the easiest way for someone to find you and return your dog. Collars don’t always work so well with cats, and dogs can get out of them, so having your pet microchipped is something to consider. If your pet does have a microchip, double check that your address and phone number are up to date!
3. Use a ThunderShirt
The ThunderShirt is one item that really made a difference for my dog, Mack. It requires training so your dog associates the ThunderShirt with positive experiences, but it fits snugly, helping your pet to feel safe and secure. While it did not cure Mack of his phobia, it did help.
I know many pet parents are not fans of ‘drugging’ their dogs (I’m not either, but there is a time and a place!). But I will say there are many new options on the market specifically for firework and thunderstorm anxiety. There are also more holistic options for calming such as Composure Chews. Plan ahead and schedule a noise phobia consult with your family veterinarian. They will be able to help you choose the right regimen for your pet.
5. Beware at BBQs
One of the most fun parts of the 4th are parades and picnics: being around friends and family and enjoying delicious food! However, this can be such a dangerous scene for our pets as many times we are distracted and they end up eating something they shouldn’t. Cheeseburgers and hotdogs are high fat foods and can trigger gastrointestinal upset like pancreatitis. Also, dogs do tend to eat anything that remotely tastes like food like kabob skewers and aluminum foil which can cause an intestinal obstruction in addition to the above mentioned gastrointestinal upset. It is good practice to put pets in their safe space (crate or room) while everyone is eating. It teaches them good manners (reduces begging) and lessens the chance that they will eat something they shouldn’t. It isn’t fun having to ditch the festivities for the veterinary ER because your dog is sick!
Please be aware of the heat! It can be so dangerous to us and to our pets! Animals cannot cool their bodies as quickly and efficiently as we can. Brachycephalic breeds, such as Boxers and Himalayan cats, are at the most risk for heat stroke. Keep your pets indoors during the warmest part of the day all summer long and if you must let them out, please do so for only a short amount of time. Make sure they have access to fresh water outside as well as when they come indoors. Heat stroke is scary and can be deadly for our pets. Many people do not recognize their pet is overheated until it is too late.
I hope all members of your family enjoy the 4th this year. Don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian and ask for their recommendations on a noise phobia protocol for your pet. My dog Mack (he passed away last May) did very well with his ThunderShirt and a combination of holistic and anti-anxiety meds. Let’s keep all our pets safe & secure this 4th!
– Leigh Hofmeister, DVM