Experts recommend best ways to care for pets during fireworks season

Published 10:26 pm Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Most start with a pop, whistling into the sky until they turn into a hissing swirl of lights, while others roar with an explosive bang. Humans tend to love it — we’ve watched fireworks since we were kids, so for most of us, it’s a celebrational treat.

But for our pets, the “treat” of lights and loud noises can drive them away from their homes and families, sometimes even into deadly situations. A quick social media search shows rescue organizations plastering warnings everywhere, with some telling stories of dogs going so crazy, they’ve jumped through screens, glass windows, fences …

One organization told the story of a dog that was so terrified by the fireworks explosions, it tried to squeeze through a fence with metal bars and died from injuries.

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The American Humane Society (AHS) says July 5 is the busiest day of the year at animal shelters, after pets fled the night before in fright, ending up miles from their homes. Most are disoriented and exhausted after breaking from their leash or clearing high fences to get away from the loud noises.

“Yes, July 5 is definitely one of the busiest days of the year for animal control,” says John Hambel, animal control director and shelter manager of the Danville-Boyle County Humane Society. “The night of the fireworks is always busy, too, because we are on call 24/7.”

AHS warns if your pet is upset by thunder, a door slamming or any other loud noises, Fourth of July fireworks will be utterly terrifying, so it’s important to take precautions.

First and foremost, pets won’t “enjoy” a fireworks display, so leave them at home. Keep them inside, shielded from loud noises — and do not leave them alone if you’re out celebrating; make sure someone can stay with them.

AHS also recommends contacting an animal behaviorist to work with your pets on their fears. It says with some positive reinforcement and behavioral modification training, they may be able to handle the next Independence Day celebration.

“One thing owners need to realize is that if they are nervous about the fireworks or how the dog may respond, they can actually cause the dog to become fearful,” says Cheri Carbone, a local dog trainer. She says dogs mirror our energy.

You “should not talk to a nervous dog, pet it for feel sorry for it, because it communicates to the dog that you agree with the neurotic behavior,” she said.

Carbone has a rescue dog that was terrified of “even the furthest-away gunshot noises.”

“I crated her next to my bed while I laid on the bed reading a book to keep my mind positive and not aware of her fear. Now, she’s able to handle thunder and other loud noises better,” she says.

Carbone says where she and her husband live out in the country, many of their friends bring their pets “out here to get them away from the fireworks.”

She says the ThunderShirt works on some dogs — it’s an anxiety wrap designed to provide constant pressure to a dog’s body, producing a calming effect.

“It will work on some, but it’s still important that owners confine their dogs to safety, even if the shirt works,” she says. And then there are medications, which she says should be used first the night before fireworks to ensure your dog responds to it, and so you’ll know how far in advance to administer it the night of.

AHS says if you think your pets should be tranquilized, consult a vet well in advance of the event. Also, be sure all ID tags are on your pet and include your cell number. And update your microchip registrations and pet license information to make sure it’s current.

Many experts say secure the dog if it’s frightened — then there will be no risk of it running off.

Safety tips for pets also warn that new foods, chemicals and toys might be introduced to the house during Fourth of July celebrations, which is also important to note. Fireworks are never to be used around pets — even the unused ones can pose a danger due to toxic substances like potassium, nitrate, arsenic and other heavy metals.

Jim Slaven, a public affairs community specialist with StateFarm insurance, says exposure to lit fireworks can potentially result in severe burns and trauma to the face and paws of curious pets. Owners should not put glow jewelry on pets, either, or allow them to play with it. A release from the company says while the luminescent substance contained in these products is not highly toxic, excessive drooling and gastrointestinal irritation could still result from ingestions, and intestinal blockage could occur from swallowing large pieces of the plastic containers.

For Carbone, the motto is better safe than sorry.

“It really is best to just confine them inside of a safe space.”