Preparing Your Pets for the 4th of July

Pets FireworksWith the 4th of July just around the corner, and neighbors starting to set off fireworks, it’s important to make sure your dogs and cats are prepared!  Here are a few tips for preparing your pets for the 4th of July to keep them safe and stress-free during the festivities.

Be sure to walk your dogs early each evening, before it gets dark, to prevent any additional stresses. As many of you know, this week can be hard on our pets.

If your pet isn’t afraid, that’s great, but don’t tempt traumatizing your pet with over exposure. You risk a future fear.

From even miles away, explosions of fireworks, high-pitched swoosh of rockets climbing into the sky, flashes of light, can all be an overwhelming sensory assaults on our pets. If you have a new dog or puppy, watch carefully for the following symptoms. You may be surprised to recognize some that indicate your pet really is scared..

The most common sign of stress in cats is that they hide. If they are outdoors, they will hide in a shed, a garage, under a deck or deep in and under some bushes. Inside, they may want access to a closet or under the bed.

Your cat or dog may urinate or defecate more often and inappropriately in places they wouldn’t normally go, or worse yet, express their anal glands. Their need to chew on things may increase and you may find them chewing things like shoes, socks, bedding or even their own feet. If you see them panting it just may be their fear of the loud noises that triggered it. You might see them pacing back and forth or worse, trying the big escape by digging, jumping over a fence, through windows or even through a screen door. My son who rescues Rhodesian Ridgebacks had one run right through a screen doorand unfortunately he kept on running and running, sadly never to be seen again. A dog that runs to try to get away from the sounds is the most difficult, because obviously, there is no getting away from it so they could end up much farther from your home than you can ever imagine.

You may see them excessively drooling or licking themselves. They may want to stay close by your side or totally ignore you and not even hear your commands. A fearful dog or cat may not want to eat, their pupils may be dilated and you may hear them barking or meowing louder or more often.

The week of the 4th is historically the busiest week of the year in animal shelters all across the country. The very busiest day is July 5th. According to the national statistics, animal control officials across the country see a 30% increase in lost pets each year between July 4th and 6th. In fact, July 5th is one of the busiest days of the year for shelters. Sadly, not enough lost pets ever make it home to their family.

For those of us with dogs who are already afraid, protecting them and keeping them away from fireworks is a no-brainer. We already know that our pets (like my Taz and Tillie) suffer greatly when the fireworks begin – panting, drooling, shaking, pacing and hiding, all are symptoms of a dog who is afraid of fireworks. For owners like us, our goal is to simply keep them safe and get them through the week with the least amount of stress possible.

But the pets I worry about most are the ones who have never displayed symptoms of fear when fireworks have gone off before. These are the dogs that many owners think are safe to take to a fireworks display or to walk at night as the fireworks are going off in a neighborhood. These are the dogs that no one expects to bolt and run, but, as statistics show, they do. It’s a huge risk.

Pets do get hit by cars or left to linger in shelters. The annual flood of pets into shelters is a direct result of three things:

  • The stress and anxiety that fireworks create in many cats and dogs.
  • The lack of awareness and/or understanding that the general public, pet owners and non-pet people, have of the stress and anxiety that fireworks causes in many cats and dogs. AND,
  • The failure of thousands of pet owners to take the easy steps necessary to minimize their pet’s stress and anxiety, prevent an escape from their home, yard, or even a leash, and to maximize the chances that they will be reunited with a lost pet.

The ASPCA estimates that less than 2% of cats and only 15-20% of dogs entering shelters are ever reunited with their families!

So, enough with the scary stuff. Here are some ideas to help you and your pet get through the week safely!

  1. First, Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise early in the day. A long walk or run is a great idea or maybe even a swim at Bailey’s Journey Swim Therapy would be perfect.
  2. Keep your pets inside during fireworks, preferably with a human companion.
  3. Consider putting Dogs and Cats who are known to be agitated by the fireworks into a bathroom or other room with no windows and with the door secure. Put their creature comforts in with them. Remember that screen doors will not stop a charging dog. I can’t emphasize this enough. Screen Doors WILL NOT keep a dog in your house when they are in a panic mode.
  4. Keep windows and doors securely closed. Block off all pet doors to the outside and ensure that yard gates and fences are in tact and securely closed.
  5. Be sure that your dog is on a leash every time you leave your house this week. You just never know when a firework will go off in your neighborhood. Be sure to attach their leash before you open the door!
  6. Don’t just let your dog out in the yard to “do their business” on or around the 4th – Even if your yard is fenced, Dogs have been known to jump several feet over fences or dig under them to escape, and you never know when someone has made it easy for your dog by accidently leaving a gate open. Keep them on a leash.
  7. Turn on the air conditioning or fans may help.
  8. Keep your dog and cat home. Taking your dog to a fireworks display is NEVER a good idea, for any reason. You just never know when the fear will be triggered. Why risk it.
  9. Provide a safe place inside for your dogs and cats to retreat. When scared of sounds they can’t orient themselves to, dogs often prefer small enclosed areas. If your dog is comfortable in a crate, it’s a very good option. You might want to cover the crate and dim the room.
  10. If possible, keep the windows and curtains closed. Removing visual stimulation can also help keep pets calmer.
  11. Make sure all your pets are wearing up to date ID tags with a properly fitting collar. Your dog needs a solid ID in order to find his way back to you. Make sure your pets microchip is up to date!!
  12. Leave something very special and fun to do – like a frozen Kong filled with favorite treats mixed with sweet potatoes or peanut butter, or a new puzzle game filled with yummy treats to find, or a wonderful meaty rawbone.
  13. Make good use of Sound Therapy. Turn on some soothing classical music, piano specifically, works well. Better yet, there are some CDs designed specifically for cats and dogs ears. Play the music well before the fireworks start, at a time when your pet is already feeling peaceful and relaxed. He will associate the music with being calm and content. So play the music a couple of hours before the fireworks start and continue to play it through bedtime. The music doesn’t need to be loud to be effective in calming dogs and cats nervous systems.
  14. Get Tactile: There are two Anxiety Wraps on the market that can help anxious and sound phobic dogs. Think of calming a baby by swaddling them in a tightly wrapped blanket. The Thundershirt and the Kong ANTI-Anxiety shirt both work in the same way. The difference between them is the Kong shirt reaches back to wrap their upper rear legs while the Thundershirt is shorter. They both use acupressure and maintain a gentle constant pressure around the pet to reduce stress.
  15. Take advantage of your pet’s strong Scent ability: Canine Calm is an all-natural herbal spray mist. It can help dogs relax and cope more effectively with loud noises and other stressful situations. Spray Canine Calm onto your hands and massage the dog’s outer ears or abdomen. Or lightly mist the air behind your dog’shead, inside the travel crate or car, or directly onto bedding or clothing. We use this in our grooming shop all the time and while it works, it may be best to combine it with some other method of calming too.

Other CALMING remedies that you can find at Nature’s Pet Market:

  • Bach flower essence Rescue Remedy– use the pet version only
  • Animal Essentials, Tranquility Blend
  • Ark Naturals, Happy Traveler
  • Calming Gel, by Petzlife
  • Dr. Harveys, Relax
  • Homeopathic Remedies by Homeopet
  • Anxiety TFLN – Thunder, Fireworks, Wind, Loud Noises.
  • Anxiety Relief
  • Travel Anxiety
  • Pet Naturals Calming Treats– uses Colostrum (think mother’s milk)

Most of these calming remedies are for both dogs and cats. They tend to take effect within an hour of administration, and should be given prior to the fear-producing event. Consider when fireworks will start in your neighborhood and go from there. Do a trial run ahead of time to see how your pet reacts to the ones you choose. What works best for one pet may not work as well for another and then again it may take a combination of remedies. Don’t be afraid to layer multiple remedies. I know I have to use 2 different ones for Tillie. When it works, you’ll see or feel your pet’s tension released.

Also try using Pheromones, such as the dog appeasing pheromone (DAP),found in Comfort Zone® products, and cat facial pheromones found in Feliway®may help some pets.

I really want pet owners to enjoy the holiday while keeping their pet(s) safe and secure.

If you do happen to find a stray animal in the days following the 4th, please keep them with you until your local animal shelter is open and able to receive it.

If somehow your Pet DOES Become Lost, you must immediately check with with Marion County Dog Control and the Willamette Humane Society.

Put up flyers around the area with a photo and detailed description of the missing pet.

In addition to Willamette Humane Society’s Lost and Found Pets Listings, Craigslist offers free lost and found pet postings, AND THERE IS A facebook page called Lost and Found Pets of Salem OR where you can post a picture and description.

Check around the neighborhood carefully. Lost cats have been found days later, hiding under a bush right infront of their owners’ homes. For dogs, expand the search area further thanexpected, as a precaution.

Too many pets wind up in shelters and never make it back to their home and family. The importance of taking steps to prevent them from needing to be there in the first place truly cannot be overstated. And, for those that do wind up in shelters, the importance of taking steps to insure they will be reunited with you can’t be emphasized enough.

These are easy steps and tips to follow. Please share them with your friends and neighbors so they can be reminded to keep their pets safe too.

To help you prepare your pet, you can get 20% off all calming remedies for the 4th. Just ask!

May the 4th be with you, stress free!

By Terri Ellen, Nature’s Pet Salem, prepared for the Paws For Thought Radio Show on 6/26/2014