Summer Pet Safety Tips

Don't let fireworks, chocolate, or grill cleaners spell disaster for your pet this summer holiday season.

June 25, 2012

The Fourth of July is one of those holidays that's especially loud and boisterous, thanks in large part to the thundering cracks, booms, and pops of fireworks displays showering over community parks and backyards. While it might be fun for families to watch, enduring a fireworks show can scare the bejeezus out of our four-legged friends. So much so, that many shelters report an uptick in runaway dogs around the Fourth of July.

"While pets can eat fireworks, we only see about a dozen of those cases a year," says Camille DeClementi, DVM, senior director of Animal Health Services for the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center. "Toxicity is a concern, but the big thing is the sound. Some pets have a noise phobia."


Beyond that, there are plenty of other cautions to keep in mind regarding pet safety on the Fourth.

Here's how to protect pets from the biggest Fourth of July pet safety risks:

• Create a fireworks-free zone for your pet. Dogs who are afraid of thunder can become terrified when your local fireworks show begins. (Some cats and horses are spooked by fireworks, too.) To protect house pets from fireworks, refrain from taking them out of the house and to a fireworks show. Since your neighbors might also be setting off explosives to celebrate the country's independence, Dr. DeClementi suggests placing pets in a windowless room, with drinking water available and a TV or radio left on to distract them from the explosions taking place outside. Even if you're just planning to wave sparklers around in the backyard, Dr. DeClementi recommends putting your animals indoors. Some might actually mistake a sparkler for a toy, putting them at risk for burns. Plus, neighbors might set off noisy fireworks that could put your pet in panic mode.

Avoiding leaving your pet outside, even if you have a fenced-in yard, because they often try to escape during fireworks shows. If you tie or chain your dog outside, the dog could become seriously injured or be killed if it panics when fireworks go off. As a general rule of thumb, try to take dogs out to the bathroom and for a walk while it's still light out before fireworks start. And be sure to keep them on a leash if you must go outside with them after dark.

• Clean your grill safely. Many grill cleaners contain harsh chemicals that are corrosive in nature. These can burn a curious pet's mouth. Plus, do you really want to cook your food around those chemicals? Use our fast and easy green grill cleaning tips for safer options.

• Avoid poisonous landscaping mistakes. If you're jazzing your yard up to host company this Fourth of July, try to do it in a pet-friendly way so your pets or your guests' pets stay safe. Dr. DeClementi says cocoa bean mulch, popular among some homeowners, can be toxic to dogs, and its sweet aroma can lure them in for a bite. Snail- and slug-killing chemicals are also toxic, so go with organic landscaping techniques to keep your family, friends, and four-legged friends safe from harmful chemical pesticides.

• Don't keep your pet in a car. Never leave an animal unattended in a car. Leaving the windows rolled down does not provide adequate air flow or cooling, and could kill your pet in minutes.

• Don't create a dietary disaster. While hotdogs and hamburgers generally won't kill a pet, feeding popular Fourth of July fare to pets could cause vomiting and diarrhea, something you probably don't feel like cleaning up during a holiday party. More serious health threats for dogs come from eating chocolate or grapes, so be sure to keep those out of reach.

• Beware of the beer. Pets are generally a lot smaller than we are, and yes, they can get drunk. Fallen beer or wine can be lapped up and result in an intoxicated pet. As in humans, an excessive amount could result in the imbiber slipping into a coma.

• Forgo glow jewelry. Fourth of July picnics, parades, or parties might feature glow jewelry, a novelty in the cat world, too. Felines love to play with glow jewelry, and if they bit into the plastic tubing, they often react in a way that looks deadly. "Glow jewelry is not high in toxicity, but looks scary because cats drool and run away," says Dr. DeClementi. If your cat is unfortunate enough to chomp down on the stuff, Dr. DeClementi recommends feeding the animal something tasty to wash away the bad taste, and then taking it into a dark room for observation. If you see glowing material around the mouth and paws, wipe it off with a damp cloth, or the cat will likely lick it and repeat the drooling episode.

• Let fireflies fly. While catching fireflies isn't reserved for just the Fourth of July (we hope you let them go!), it is a seasonal topic that Dr. DeClementi addresses, since some people catch fireflies and try to feed them to pet lizards. "Feed them a few and bearded and dragon lizards can die," she warns. To be safe, just leave the fireflies outside, and allow them to put on their own peaceful fireworks show for the Fourth.