• Justin Hein

Best Practices for Pet Owners on the 4th of July

Dogs and cats may look cute in red, white, and blue, but they do not like fireworks.

Please be mindful of your (and your neighbors’) pets in the coming days. Many people enjoy the booming sounds and flashing lights of fireworks to celebrate the 4th of July. But pets almost unanimously do not. In fact, they can be terrifying and overwhelming for pets, and possibly hazardous.

As we start to make preparations to celebrate Independence Day and the founding of the U.S., keep in mind that on the 5th of July, animal shelters around the nation report a dramatic increase in lost pets during the holiday. Fireworks can be very stressful for pets possibly causing fear and anxiety.  In their fear, pets who normally would not leave the yard may escape and become lost.

In addition, the festivities often draw attention away from your pets. Thus, they can often get neglected in the summer heat by pet owners failing to keep their animals properly hydrated and cool.

Dogs and cats don’t mix well with celebratory booms in the sky, but the good news is they don’t have to go it alone. How do you plan to help your pet through the bangs and the booms? Here are some tips for pet owners dealing with fireworks and the summer:

Keep your pet safely away from fireworks – First and foremost--do not bring your pet to community fireworks. They do not want to be there and knowledgeable members of your community will be perturbed and feel the need to be extra vigilant by their presence. Second, if setting off fireworks at home, please be mindful that your animal may become agitated and overly aggressive in response. They could attack the fireworks or the person igniting them. In the alternative, they could get scared away. Furthermore, completed fireworks should be retrieved and discarded as soon as possible so your pet does not attempt to ingest.

Do not correct, scold, or punish your pet – more likely than not, they are absolutely terrified by what is unfolding. Your added yelling, scolding, or corporal punishment will not help matters. If anything, it will result in your pet associating a menacing event with you. And it could impact your relationship with your pet permanently.

Comfort your pet – a number of studies highlight that dogs value social support from owners. Like a child afraid of a loud noise turning and running toward a parent, dogs facing stressful situations have been found to turn to their owners as safe havens. You cannot reinforce anxiety by comforting your pet.

Keep your pet indoors if near local festivities… or if hot – even if you are not setting off fireworks at home, please be mindful of your community. Your neighbors’ could be having a party and setting off fireworks could be part of the celebration. Or, your city, town, or village could be setting off massive fireworks. Thus, in the evening, keep your pet indoors. This will ensure that even if they become agitated, that they do not run away. Furthermore, if it is extremely hot outside, being inside is much safer.

Get Your Pet ID – all pets, even those kept indoors full-time, should always wear collars with ID tags. Indoor-only pets can become so frightened during fireworks displays that they may take desperate measures to escape the noise, including breaking through window or door screens. It’s also a good idea to have your pet microchipped.

Keep your pet hydrated, cool – 4th of July celebrations are often coupled with high heat. As a result, you need to make sure to keep your pet hydrated, regardless of your participation in festivities or not. If you do attend an event and your dog accompanies you, do not rely on placing your dog in a car if your dog reacts poorly to the festivities. Even when the temperature outside is a balmy 72 degrees, the temperature inside your car can rocket to a fatal 116 degrees in less than an hour’s time.

Compete or Desensitize – sometimes you can allay your pet’s fears by desensitizing them to loud sounds, through playing loud music. In the alternative, you can watch fireworks on television at a loud volume. Finally, during local firework displays you can attempt to cancel out the fireworks with sounds your dog is accustomed to. In your home, background noise like TV, music, fans, or white noise can help mask what's going on outside. 

Let them hide… in a crate – hiding (as in a cave) is a natural psychological defense for dogs. Getting them used to a crate as pups has a tremendous influence on how comfortable they are when things scare them. Offer treats, cuddlings and other good stuff when they are in their hiding place early in life so they know it is always a safe space. Then, during the festivities, have them go into their crate until it is finished.

Natural therapies – for milder cases, Bach flower extracts, lavender oil (in a diffuser is best) and/or “Dog Appeasing Pheromone” (marketed as D.A.P. in a diffuser, spray or collar) can help.

Ask your veterinarian – for more extreme cases, enlist the assistance of your veterinarian. There may be options (i.e. boarding, sedating, veterinary behaviorists, etc.) that are more practical or applicable to your and your pet’s situation. A drug approved May 2018 by the FDA for canine noise aversion is also promising. Sileo inhibits the development of fear and anxiety by blocking norepinephrine release, which provides a calming effect without sedation.

In addition to the above, please find the Top 10 4th of July Pet Safety Tips from PetMD.

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