July Fourth Pet Safety

Pet dog holding an American flag on the Fourth of July

The anticipated celebration of America’s Independence Day calls for an annual celebration full of fireworks, grilling, and cheers. Amid the fun-filled chaos, however, sometimes lies the overlooked care of pets that may have a contrasting and much more fear-filled perspective of the Fourth of July.

Dr. Christine Rutter, a clinical associate professor of emergency and critical care medicine at the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, helps owners prepare for the underlying pet hazards that are present during the noisy and food-abundant festivities of the upcoming holiday.

Keeping Your Hotdogs To Yourself

“Puppy-dog eyes” has been coined as a tool of persuasion by society for millennia, and for good reason — one look and your leftover dinner becomes your canine companion’s treat. 

Despite the charm of a patiently wagging tail, Rutter implores guests attending Independence Day celebrations to resist the pull of offering party foods that could unintentionally put the animal’s health at risk.

“Corn cobs (which cause GI obstruction), grease (from the ground or in grill grease traps), and tasty bits from unsecured trash or handouts commonly cause problems,” Rutter said. “Dogs typically eat a pretty regular diet, so abrupt dietary changes can really throw them into havoc.”

Just because the grill-heavy day will end in a food coma for us does not mean our pets should experience the same fate. Rutter offers an alternative approach to turning away the really cute and cuddly stars of any family get-together.

“I provide carrot sticks, sugar snap peas, and melon, or other healthy treats, for people who want to give something to my dogs,” Rutter said. “It keeps the dogs from being handed a hotdog by well-meaning friends.”

Lost In The Lights

Sitting at home on a seemingly normal night and hearing the loud crack of a firework might raise a sense of confusion and alarm for anyone. Now, imagine these bursts of fireworks multiplied tenfold for pets that do not understand the celebratory purpose of these jarring sights and sounds.

“You can see how, from their perspective, the loud noises and flashes are quite triggering,” Rutter said. “Dogs can act out by hiding, house soiling, destroying things, becoming defensive, or running away.”

It is difficult for owners to imagine a more heart-wrenching experience than discovering that a pet has gone missing due to the disorientation of the Fourth. For this reason, it is vital to not minimize the intimidation factor that fireworks can bring to pets of any and all sizes, according to Rutter.

For extreme cases of firework anxiety, Rutter suggests that medication can offer relief but advises against giving human medications due to their different effects on animals’ systems.

“Medications should be given to a pet before the fireworks begin to help minimize the fear they experience,” Rutter said. “Waiting until they are already upset makes the fear more difficult to manage. Owners should ask their vet how early and how often to give medications; every medication is different.”

Reining In Their Freedom

Despite the reverence given to independence on this holiday, pet owners should strive to tighten the leash on their pet’s traversing. 

“It’s best to keep pets indoors in an environment they are familiar with,” Rutter said. “Be sure the space is cleanable, has minimal furniture (or things that could be destroyed), and consider a white noise generator.”

Variables such as anxiety levels, disagreeable food access, firework discombobulation, and more all vary from pet to pet. In the unknown of what the zealous excitement that the Fourth of July brings as a form of stress to your beloved furry friend, it is always recommended to proceed with caution and prepare to pair your celebrations with their care.

“Be careful not to ‘fawn’ over fearful pets,” Rutter said. “You don’t want them to think you are also afraid based on your tone or actions. Provide stability and consistency for them to reassure them that they will be OK.”

Pet Talk is a service of the School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to vmbs-editor@tamu.edu.

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