I love my Scruffy Dog. Truly. It would break my heart if anything happened to him. They say that more pets are lost on the Fourth of July than on any other day in the USA. I haven’t been able to find the source of that statistic, but it makes sense. Fireworks scare animals. It’s up to us humans to prevent loss, injury, or death this Independence Day weekend.
1. Use a short leash and harness all weekend. Even if your dog responds to verbal commands, and you can usually take him out without a leash, use a leash all July 4 weekend. Use a short leash to prevent your dog from suddenly running out in front of a car, or into some other danger, before you’re able to stop him. You never know when someone will set off a firecracker, which could scare your pet into running. A harness is better than a leash this weekend, because dogs are more likely to pull on a collar than a harness, and they can pull out of their collars.
If you don’t have a harness, and can’t get one, at least double-check your dog’s collar. You should be able to put a finger or two (you know, if your hands are big or small) between the dog’s neck and the collar. Try to pull it over your dog’s head, to see if he can pull out of it. Remember, if he pulls out of his collar, he will be not only loose, but without visible identification. Someone might decide to keep your pet.
2. Keep your pets indoors. The safest place for pets this weekend is in an escape-proof, familiar room of your home. Pets–even cats–who usually live outdoors can get spooked by the sounds of celebration, and run into traffic or get lost. Never leave your pet alone outdoors, even with a fenced yard, on the 4th of July.
If you don’t have a litter box, you can make a weekend-only litter box out of any shallow box or bin, filled with kitty litter (or dirt, in a pinch). Set the box in a quiet area of an escape-proof room in your home. Introduce your cat to the box by placing him into the box and gently rubbing his front paws through the litter, then let go of him. Don’t hold him in the box. Cats instinctively relieve themselves where they can bury it, so chances are probable that the cat will use the litter box, even if he’s never used one.
3. Prepare your safe room. The room your pet stays in during the Independence Day weekend should be escape-proof. Preferably, the room should be windowless, but at least make sure windows are closed and locked. If you’re having company, make sure the room is not one that will be disturbed, like a throughway to another room. Cats need a litter box and a place to hide. If your dog is used to being crated, put his crate in the safe room and
drape a heavy blanket over the top, to muffle sounds. If your dog is not used to a crate, try draping a heavy blanket over the top of a small table, or the seat of a chair, so he can hide if he wants to. Wrap the blanket around yourself before draping, so it smells familiar. Place a TV or radio in the room, and turn it on to a familiar station, at a normal volume, so your pet hears familiar sounds. Don’t forget to place a bowl of fresh water and your pet’s toys in the room.
If the safe room will get hot, add a fan. Aim the fan directly at one spot, so your pet can get in front of it, or get away from it. Put ice in your pet’s water bowl, to keep water cooler longer. Consider giving your long-haired dog a summer haircut before the 4th.
4. Tire out your dog. Especially if you already know that your dog is afraid of sudden, loud noises, like thunder, take him for an extra-long walk or run (on a short leash) before sundown, when fewer fireworks are going off. A tired dog stays calmer.
If you can’t walk your dog (or if you already have), challenge him mentally by going over tricks and routines that he knows, more often and for a longer time than usual, throughout the weekend. If you have dog puzzles, this is the time to break them out. You can also keep him engaged, both mentally and physically, using his natural instincts. Instead of giving him his meal in his usual bowl, measure it out, then hide tiny bits of dry dog food all around the safe room. The mental energy of hunting will tire him out, and reduce anxiety.
5. Identify your pet. Sometimes accidents happen and pets escape and run for it. They won’t run to their usual spots if firecrackers are blasting there. They can get lost. Take a current photo of your pet, and keep it on your phone, to help find your pet if he gets lost. Even if your pet is microchipped, he also needs a visible ID that has your current phone number on it. Not everyone will take a found pet to a vet or shelter to check for microchipping, but they might hold him long enough for you to come and pick up, if they see a phone number.
If you don’t have an ID tag for your pet, write your phone number in big, bold numbers on the outside of your pet’s collar, so that it’s clearly visible. If you don’t have a collar for your pet, get one. If you really cannot, then, just for this weekend, use a length of ribbon, a bandana, or a strip of cloth with your phone number written on it visibly. Make sure what you make is safe and comfortable for your pet. No dangling ribbon or loose strings to catch on anything or present a choking or strangulation hazard.
6. Don’t feed your pet’s fear. If you’re staying home with your pet, and the noise of
fireworks is spooking him, try not to react to his fear. If your cat is hiding, don’t try to coax him out, or talk to him while he’s hiding. As long as he’s hiding in a safe place, leave him alone. The same goes for dogs, if they’re hiding in a safe place. If your dog comes to you for comfort, you can let him sit with you, but don’t overly comfort him. He will be better comforted by your indifference to the noise. Try to distract him with commands and training exercises, or have him lie next to you while you do something calm, like read or watch TV. If you have a Thundershirt, or something similar, for your dog, put it on him. If you don’t, try a harness, a dog sweater, or even a towel around his body.
7. Avoid accidental poisoning and choking hazards by inspecting your home, indoors and out, and cleaning up right away. Dogs eat anything. Pick up glow jewelry, fireworks, beads, decorations, insect repellent (including citronella), and any cups or cans that might have leftover alcoholic drinks in them. Swallowed decorations can cause intestinal blockage. Insect repellant and alcohol is poisonous to pets. We’ve all heard stories about dogs drinking beer. but that funny story isn’t so funny when you realize that the dog acted strange because he was poisoned. Alcohol can cause coma, respiratory failure, and even death, so don’t give it to your pets and don’t let them get hold of it. Inspect your yard and neighborhood for spent fireworks that may have landed nearby, or anything else that might harm your pet.
And don’t forget the humans. There are lots of hazards for humans during the 4th of July celebrations, too. So keep your wits about you, stay safe, stay respectful, and stay free!
What are you doing to celebrate?