Shea Cox
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Safety Tips for Dogs on the 4th of July

One of the busiest times of the year for our emergency service is the Fourth of July holiday. While many people celebrate Independence Day with fireworks and BBQ’s, many others spend it waiting in the ER while their pet is treated for an array of holiday-induced emergencies, including serious laceration injuries from pets jumping through glass windows or doors, high rise fall injuries due to jumping from balconies, hit by car trauma as pets attempt to flee from noises, dietary indiscretions from our pets stealing post-picnic scraps, and cases of severe anxiety due to overwhelming stimulation.  In addition to the trauma that we see, we also receive many phone calls from distressed owners trying to locate their lost pet, following it running away from home in a panicked state.

Follow these tips to help prevent injury and loss during this holiday:

  • Make sure your pets are secured indoors and as far away from the sounds as possible as the loud noise of fireworks can startle. Keep your pet in a safe room where they are comfortable once the festivities begin. If your dog is crate trained, put him/her in its crate with a blanket to help offer a feeling of security. You can also help to block the outside sights and sounds by lowering the blinds and turning on the television or radio. And remember, it is a mistake to assume that a fenced pet won’t look for a way to escape the yard during times of extreme stress!
  • Be sure that your animal can be identified in case they do escape! If you don’t already have a name tag for your dog, instant ones can be made “on demand” at many local pet supply stores. Engraved tags start at $5.99. Microchipping your pet is one other way to help missing animals find their way back home. Sadly, many animals that have been microchipped are not registered in the system and we are unable to reunite families; please ensure that your pets microchip truly has been registered, and just as important, that your address and phone numbers are current!  If you are in question as to whether your pets microchip is active, see your veterinarian for a scan prior to the holiday!
  • If you live out of earshot of city fireworks displays, don’t forget that small neighborhood displays or children can be just as distressing to your pets; if you or your neighbors plan to celebrate, it is still important to keep a sharp eye on your well-secured pet; if you plan to go to a friends home for the festivities, it is safer to keep your dog home than to bring him or her, even if the party is dog-friendly. If you have to leave for the day, keep your pets inside of the house rather than outdoors to help remove the temptation to leap over the fence to try and find you.
  • Pets often try to relieve anxiety by chewing and it is important to make sure confined pets do not have access to anything that they could destroy. Indoor crating could be a good option for some dogs, but not for periods longer than four hours, and you still need to keep a watchful eye on them while contained. We have seen injuries as mild as broken toe nails from trying to “dig out” from their kennels, to more extreme cases of mouth trauma and fractured teeth. This is not a good option to try if your pet has never been crated before as this will only add to their distress.
  • You can also distract your four-pawed friend with a toy and praise him or her for non-fearful behavior, like tail-wagging.
  • Some pets respond well to sedatives, such as Acepromazine. It is always a good idea to plan ahead and anticipate that this will be a time of stress; make an appointment with your veterinarian to have your pet examined and a sedative dispensed, or, if your pet has had a physical exam in the past year by your veterinarian, they will often dispense this medication for you if your pet is otherwise healthy. There are also herbal over-the-counter remedies such as Feliway and NaturVet Calming Aid, which can offer homeopathic relaxing effects to your pets. Thundershirts can also be very helpful for some pets at reducing anxiety caused by noise.
  • Do not feed your dog scraps from the grill and properly put away those garbage bags filled with the remains of your Fourth of July picnic—the lure of leftover BBQ chicken, corn cobs and the like is often too great for any pup to resist, and these types of dietary indiscretions can lead to pancreatitis, gastroenteritis, and intestinal foreign bodies requiring surgical removal. Remember that some foods can be toxic to dogs such as chocolate, onions, grapes, and avocados. Alcoholic beverages also have the potential to poison our pets.
  • Avoid spraying your dog with insect repellant and only use sunscreen that is intended for animal use as human products can be dangerous to your pets. Ingestion of sunscreen products can result in drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst and lethargy. The misuse of insect repellent that contains DEET can lead to neurological problems. Always keep matches and lighter fluid out of your pets’ reach; certain types of matches contain chlorates that can damage blood cells and result in difficulty breathing or kidney disease in severe cases. Lighter fluid can be irritating to the skin and if ingested, can produce irritation of the stomach and intestines as well as causing aspiration pneumonia if it is inhaled or vomited.  Citronella candles, insect coils and oil-based insect repellents can also cause stomach irritation and possibly central nervous system depression.

It is hoped that these tips will help ensure a happy holiday celebration for your entire 2 and 4-legged family… one without any trips to the animal ER!


Veterinarian Shea Cox has enjoyed an indirect path through her professional life, initially obtaining degrees in fine arts and nursing. She later obtained her veterinary medical degree from Michigan State University in 2001 and has been practicing emergency and critical care medicine solely since that time. In 2006, she joined the ER staff at PETS Referral Center in Berkeley and cannot imagine a more rewarding and fulfilling place to spend her working hours. In her spare time, she loves to paint, wield her green thumb, cook up a storm and sail. Her days are shared with the three loves of her life: her husband Scott and their two Doberman children that curiously occupy opposite ends of the personality spectrum.

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Submitted by Anonymous | July 3 2012 |

Great information except for the suggestion of Acepromazine. The use of a sedative doesn't address the underlying anxiety and can actually make your pet worse. This type of medication will interfere with your pet's ability to learn so behavior modification techniques won't work.
The behaviors associated with anxiety will be decreased but the underlying emotion remains unchanged. In other words your pet may look more relaxed but is the anxiety is still there...just masked.

Anti anxiety medications like Xanax are recommended because they address the anxiety itself. The goal isn't to zonk your pet so they can't react. The goal is to relieve the anxiety so you can use behavior modification to teach your pet how to cope.

Submitted by Shirley Zindler | July 3 2012 |

Thank you for posting this. As an Animal Control Officer I have worked nearly every 4th of July for many years. I've picked up the broken and terrified animals and responded to dog bites from panicked canines among many other fireworks related animal calls. I'll be busy again this year, no doubt.

Submitted by shirley zindler | July 5 2012 |

Sadly, this year was the worst yet for my on-call shift as an animal control officer. Among other calls, within minutes of the first boom, a gorgeous German Shepherd bolted into traffic and was hit. I rushed him to the emergency clinic but he died of major head trauma within a few hours. Soon after, a handsome Cattledog was found lying on a country road with major injuries. I had him to emergency within 30 minutes of the call but he didnt make it either...
Such a sad waste of life.

Submitted by Anonymous | July 10 2012 |

I so wish fireworks could be outlawed or restricted to a more controlled environment. My golden retriever ran away - opposite the source of the fireworks - in complete panic. Luckily I found him the next day on the military base where I work . . . ironic, he found refuge from the fireworks on a military installation . . . he was on the beach with the retirees at their RV site . . .

I looked for him all night and day until I found him. I have never been so relieved in my life to see him sitting there on the gorgeous beach - and also never so angry at people who somehow believe recreating the war at Baghdad on our homefront, is a way to honor our country.

Submitted by Price for gener... | August 6 2012 |

Thank you for these tips. We do not accept fireworks on 4 July in the UK, instead we accept them on 5 Nov (to bless the abortion of Guy Falwkes and others who attempted to draft up our Parliament)Price for generic Kamagra and more for New Year. My accepted dog isn't absolutely afraid by fireworks but we accumulate him central - in bluntness it is those animals such as beasts and sheep that I feel absolutely apologetic for. For my allotment I am no fan of fireworks.

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