How to keep your pets safe on the 4th of July

dogflag-300x199By Dr. Karen Halligan

Independence Day brings about a sense of pride to be living in an amazing country with abundant freedoms—moving us to celebrate with backyard barbecues, picnics, family gatherings, parties, and fireworks. Sorry to say, our four-legged friends don’t understand all the clamor and hoopla. Some pets even have noise phobias, especially with fireworks. People may ooh and aah at fireworks displays, but all that racket and commotion can create real terror in our pets.

Pyrotechnics and pets
While some animals don’t seem to be bothered by the noise, others become very frightened and act in strange, unpredictable ways. Certain cats and dogs have full-blown anxiety attacks. Symptoms of anxiety include shaking, trembling, barking, howling, drooling, attempting to hide, refusing to eat, and trying to leap a fence or escape from an enclosure, yard, or home. Many animals end up lost, hurt, or seriously injured.

Unlike humans, animals have an acute sense of hearing, and the unexpected explosion of fireworks in the sky, whether a simple backyard celebration or a huge production, can cause alarm. Even pets that haven’t reacted in the past, or haven’t reacted in years, can suddenly become fearful or anxious. Older pets may be even more sensitive to loud noises.

Animal shelters see a huge increase in strays around this holiday. Dogs and cats will panic and bolt through doors, windows, or other enclosures, trying to run from the noise. It is absolutely critical that all pets have some form of current identification on them.

All pets should be kept indoors in a small, safe, sheltered area where they cannot hurt themselves. Turn on the TV or radio to help muffle the sound of fireworks or have calming music playing. Be sure to include their favorite toys, beds, food, and water. Try spending more time with them. Distract your nervous pets by playing with them or keeping them active doing something they enjoy. It seems contradictory, but do not stroke, pet, or reassure your cat or dog when they are nervous or frightened. This can actually reinforce their anxious behavior and make it worse.

Do not leave pets outside unattended. Even dogs that are tied up can get hurt trying to escape by chewing, choking, or strangling themselves on their leashes. If you take your pet outside, make sure they have a sturdy leash or are secured in a carrier.

Educate children about not scaring pets with sparklers or firecrackers.

If your pet has what is called a noise phobia, seek sedatives or tranquilizers to help calm their nerves and keep them from injuring themselves. Pets may jump through plate-glass windows, tear up their surroundings, or even self-mutilate when they hear fireworks.

Plan ahead. Do not wait until the last minute to get medication from your vet. Most veterinarians require your pet to have had a physical exam within the six-month period prior to prescribing tranquilizers. Vet clinics are inundated with owners trying to get sedatives for their pets at the last minute, so don’t procrastinate—call your vet.

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