Vets recommend safety measures when dealing with pets, firecrackers

Friday, July 3, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — For people, excitement can run high as the Fourth of July approaches. But when the sun's down and the sky lights up in an explosion of color and noise, the holiday becomes less than thrilling for some pets.

Tips for soothing pets on Fourth of July

Keeping pets calm during the explosive noise of firecrackers is important this time of year.

Here are some tips from the Humane Society of Missouri:

  • Dogs and cats are more sensitive to loud noises than people. Give your dog or cat a quiet, cool place to retreat inside, such as a basement or interior room, where sounds are less intense. Make sure your pet has access to clean, cool water.
  • Close all windows and/or turn on a radio or television to mask the sounds of fireworks. Have your pet's favorite toys and bed for comfort.
  • Don't take your pet to Fourth of July festivities. The holiday excitement and noise could make them nervous and lead them to run away. If you can't avoid taking your dog to the event, keep your pet on a short, secure leash at all times.
  • Make certain your dog wears a collar and ID tag at all times. For more secure identification, pet owners should consider implanting a microchip to identify pets and to help ensure a safe return if they are lost.
  • Never leave your pet unattended in a parked car.
  • Don't let your pet run loose or remain in a yard unattended during the Fourth of July weekend, even if you are only a few backyards away.
  • Don't confine a scared dog on a chain or in a small area such as a crate. This could increase his or her panic.
  • Don't punish your pet for behavior related to the loud noises. It will only incite more fear.

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Patty Forister, executive director of the Central Missouri Humane Society, said that though the center does not get noticeably busier during the holiday, pet safety is a major concern.

“Owned animals get very frightened of fireworks and will do anything to get away from it, including jumping out of a window,” Forister said.

According to a survey done by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, a family pet is lost every two seconds and 1 out of 3 pets is lost during its lifetime.

“We usually pick up a few more dogs on the Fourth of July than normal,” said Molly Aust, an officer with the city/county Division of Animal Control. “Most are lost animals, and we get to send a lot of them home.”

Aust said that it's not unusual for dogs to equate the noise of a firecracker to thunder, both of which easily scare them. Keeping dogs indoors in a closed room with curtains drawn can muffle the sound, but Aust presents another option to pet owners.

“If a dog is really afraid, they might be able to talk to their vet about some ideas to make their dogs feel more comfortable,” Aust said.

Noah’s Ark Animal Hospital in Columbia sees pet owners who come in around the Fourth of July looking for ways to ease their dog's fear.

“People want to do some pet prescription tranquilizer or Benadryl," said Greg Chapman, a veterinarian for 27 years. "The sedative effect will call them down.”

Chapman said it's not a good idea to leave pets by themselves. "With fireworks going off, they need to stay cool and not be in the line of fire.”

Although pets running away as a result of fireworks is the biggest problem, Chapman said, on occasion, pets are injured.

“It is pretty unusual, but I have had pets come in that had a firework go off in their eyes," Chapman said. "Some can go blind.”

Annelise Jackson of Columbia plans on purchasing a calming agent for her dog for the holiday. “My dog is 12, and she is very sensitive with her hearing,” Jackson said. “I plan on staying home with her because it is just easier.”

Leaving pets with a vet is another solution.

“A number of people don’t want the responsibility to worry about their animals, and they decide to have them board with us for the night,” Chapman said. “We have about 100 dogs, and the barking normally drowns out the noise, and they feel more comfortable around each other.”

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