One summer evening each July, the sky is set ablaze in a patriotic display of red, white and blue fireworks. Those colorful, show-stopping exhibits may bring joy to many of us, but for our pets it can be anything but thrilling. “Pets are sensitive to loud noises, flashing and bright lights, and strong smells,” says Dr. Roger Mugford, an animal psychologist, behavioral therapist, and CEO of The Company of Animals, an animal training center in Britain. “During July 4th celebration, all of these elements are present at once during fireworks shows.”
While Dr. Mugford may not celebrate July 4th in Britain, he’s got a point. Even if your pet is the most well-behaved and confident creature on your block, July 4th observances bring about a different set of problems. Before you head out the door for BBQs and pyrotechnics, take a look at Brilliant Energy’s four ways to keep your pets happy and healthy during the July 4th holiday.
Make sure their tags are up to date
More pets go missing over the Fourth of July holiday than any other time of year, according to pet recovery site PetAmberAlert.com. They report that animal control services see a 30 percent increase in lost pets, but only 14 percent of pets are returned to their owners. “And worse, 30-60 [percent] of lost pets are euthanized because they cannot be properly identified and returned to their owners,” cautions Mark Jakubczak, Certified Pet Detective and Founder of PetAmberAlert.com, in a 2015 press release.
Annalisa Berns, a spokeswoman for PetSearchAndRescue.com, has also noticed an uptick in missing pet calls during fireworks season. “My number one tip is to keep ID tags on your pet all the time, but especially for the week of [Fourth] of July,” Berns writes in an email. “If your pet gets out, an ID tag is many times a pet's ticket back home.”
So make sure your pet’s ID tags are accurate and consider investing in a microchip as a secondary form of identification in case their collar falls off. As we reported last winter in our New Year’s blog post, you’re exponentially more likely to be reunited with your pet if they are microchipped than if they are not, according to a 2009 study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Avoid human insect repellents
If your pet loves fireworks just as much as you do, but hates the mosquitos that hang around the festivities site, don’t reach for your favorite bottle of insect repellent just yet. Most human-safe insect repellents can be harmful to your pets. Most animals are really sensitive to DEET, a common insecticide ingredient in mosquito repellents. If exposed or ingested it can cause drooling, lethargy, vomiting, and even tremors, reports animal poison control center the Pet Poison Helpline.
As an alternative, consult with your vet for pet-friendly solutions. Fun fact: some topical flea and tick products your pet may already be prescribed, including those made by K9 Advantix and Bio Spot already repel those flying critters.
Reduce your pet’s anxiety
“For fireworks, it may not be just the noise causing the problem for the anxious behavior,” writes Erin Gleeson, a spokeswoman for online pet pharmacy 1-800-PetMeds. She points out that the smell of sulfur, flashes of light, and repetitive noises accompanied by fireworks may all contribute to your pets erratic behavior. So it’s important to try different tactics to distract your pet from all that is going on.
Josh Brown, owner of Far North Kennel in Anchorage, Alaska, knows that not one tactic works for every pet (or even the same pet after a while). In fact, Brown couldn’t even rely on a traditional box fan after moving to an area of town closer to fireworks ground zero. He noticed his German Shepherd Dog, Char Char, really struggled with the sights and sounds even with the fan turned on. To help Char Char deal with his amped-up anxiety, Brown invested in a $25 machine: “The hands down absolute best way we found to deal with [my dog’s anxiety was] getting a quality white noise machine. He cannot hear a thing.”
If a white-noise machine isn’t for your pet, you can try distracting your pet with treats, apply constant, gentle pressure to their torso to soothe them (think of it as your own version of a pricey Thundershirt), or even make space in your closet so they have somewhere to hide from it all. Dr. Danielle Bernal, a veterinarian with Wellness Natural Pet Food, says you may reduce your pet’s anxiety by desensitizing them to fireworks by playing a fireworks soundtrack in the background over an extended period of time. (Start a low volume and increase it over time over the next couple of weeks.) If similar tactics have failed in the past, Gleeson and Dr. Bernal agree you should follow up with your vet. “This stress for the [pet] can be severe and in some cases,” writes Dr. Bernal in an email. “Your veterinarian...will be able to customize the best plan that suits your pet, their anxiety level and their current state of health.”
Pick up any debris
Dr. Mark Olcott, DVM, reminds all pet parents that more than loud noises accompany fireworks displays. Don’t forget that even the versions typically safe for use around kids and teens -- like sparkler sticks, spinners, snakes, and roman candles -- can come with their own set of complications from the scraps left in the yard. “If ingested, they can cause vomiting, anemia, ulcers, and a whole host of medical issues related to kidney and liver damage,” says Dr. Olcott, CEO of VitusVet, a pet medical records app that partners with the Pet Poison Hotline.
While you may be tempted to force your pet to spit out the sticky remains of your neighbor’s fireworks kit, Dr. Olcott says think again. “I’d recommend immediately contacting your vet. Inducing vomiting is not always the best option because some toxins will erode the esophagus on their way out, so it’s important to treat on a case-by-case basis.” (For a list of other household treats and poisons your pet may be exposed to during the holiday weekend, review our Valentine’s Day pet safety guide.)
If your pet is exposed to anything out of the ordinary, contact your vet or a pet poison hotline immediately. The Pet Poison Helpline (1-800-213-6680) charges $39 per call, and includes unlimited follow-up consultations. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (1-888-426-4435) charges $65 per call, and includes a follow-up consultation. Both hotlines are available 24 hours, 7 days a week.