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  • Christine Geschwill, CPDT-KA

Tips to Keep your Pet Safe on the Fourth of July

I venture to say that the Fourth of July is our dog's most dreaded holiday. Many dangers present themselves, from over eating at backyard bar-b-ques to the debilitating threat of fireworks displays. Here are a few tried and tested tips to help your dog, and you, survive another Fourth.

First, keep your dog(s) secured during backyard bar-b-ques. Sure, our dogs will gladly eat that hamburger that fell on the ground, and the hot dog your neighbor's 3 year old gave him, and the one he stole off the table that no one was watching. But all that food could cause some serious digestive issues, not to mention the threat of pancreatitis. If you're lucky you'll just end up with a nasty case of diarrhea, if you're not, you could end up with an ER visit, a debilitating illness and possibly death. If you let your dog socialize with your guests, keep it brief, and make sure you are properly supervising. When you're ready to go back to your beer, and your own socializing, put your dog away.

The real threat, of course, is Fireworks. If your dog is frightened, or need I say terrified, of fireworks there are many things you can do to alleviate that fear.

1. Exercise your dog well early in the day. If your dog is tired, they are more likely to respond well to all the following protocols you will want to put in place for the evening. A neighborhood walk is not going to do the trick here. A long hike, an extended game of fetch, several times during the day, a trip to the lake for a long swim. For our South Florida friends, if you haven't checked out the Performance Pups dog lake in Dania, you really should. Your goal should be to have a thoroughly worn out dog by the end of the day.

2. Save your dog's dinner. Give your dog their dinner shortly before the celebrations begin, in food toys. Give them a task to keep them distracted. There are many options, food puzzles and toys such as the Nina Ottosson puzzles or a Kong Wobbler, IQ Ball or other similar toys, snuffle mats, or, if you haven't had the chance to get one ahead of time, use a muffin pan, and put food in the indentations and then cover them with tennis balls. You can also use toilet paper rolls to hide food in and fold them up so the dog has to rip them open. Or just hide food around the house for an old fashioned scavenger hunt. The key is to keep them BUSY. Too busy to notice the noise outside.

3. Play music, or the television. There's some debate on whether to play music or the TV low or loud, but I'd say play it at whatever volume they're used to. If you typically have the TV volume up high, then, great. If not, keep it low. What you don't want to do is replace stress over the fireworks with stress over a loud TV.

4. Keep your dog away from windows. The visual flashing can actually increase your dog's anxiety. Try sitting in an interior room without windows, or block windows with blackout curtains or blinds or cover them with dark paper if the other options aren't available.

5. Try diffusing Essential Oils. Calming oils such as Lavender or a calming blend may help keep your dogs stress level down. You can also pet appropriate oils onto your pet to assist with calming. This is not something you want to try on the Fourth for the first time, so please do experiment with oils before the day. A great resource for Essential Oils and pets is Melissa Shelton, DVM's site, AnimalEO. If your dog has Thunder Storm issues, this may also be a great resource as well.

6. Have you tried a Thundershirt or a TTouch Anxiety Wrap? If you haven't, it's worth a try. Many dogs respond well to anxiety wraps. I often wonder if dogs who's owners report little to no benefit are using them correctly. If you don't have one handy, you can make your own using an ACE bandage. More information on T-Touch wraps can be found here: TTouch Practitioners Explain Canine "Body Wrapping". You can also find quite a few YouTube videos showing you how to use a bandage to make your own.

7. Have you tried CBD Oil? Canabidiol is a derivative of the Hemp plant. It does not have any THC so it is non-psychoactive. However, there are a wealth of benefits, including significantly reduced anxiety. More on CBD Oil here: 10 Things You Didn't Know About CBD Oil for Dogs. If you're looking for a place to get it in Broward County, Green Paws Pet Market is just one of several places you can find it.

8. Do stay home with your dog. If you KNOW your dog is stressed by fireworks, don't leave them home alone to deal with the terror on their own. Stay with them. Your presence alone is calming. If you have a young dog or a newly acquired rescue dog who's response to fireworks is unknown to you, it is in your (and their) best interests to stay home and implement all the above protocols now. You know the old saying, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". If your dog wants to cuddle close, let them. Try and act as normal as possible, don't go over the top, but let them seek you out for comfort. If your dog chooses to hide, under a bed, behind the toilet, in a dark closet, don't try and drag them out. You can gently encourage them to come out, but make sure it's their choice.

9. Some well meaning vets will prescribe some medications, like Acepromazine. Acepromazine is a mild sedative. It does absolutely nothing to alleviate your dogs stress, fear or anxiety, and can actually make things worse. Your dog is still fearful or anxious, but because they are mildly sedated, they are helpless to do anything about it. When you talk with your vet about possible drugs, make sure you ask what that drug actually does, and do a little research on your own before actually giving it to your dog.

10. I hope this goes without saying, however, make sure your dog is wearing identification. In the event the worst happens, the fastest way to assure your dog finds his way home if he is found is if he is wearing identification. Microchips are great, but they're only helpful if someone takes your dog to a veterinarian, shelter or a few select other places where they can be scanned. None of which is going to be open at 11 pm on the Fourth of July. You want your terrified dog home now, not tomorrow.

11. And lastly, don't, just don't, take your dog to a public fireworks display. Even if you're sure your dog is fine with fireworks. Your dog may be fine with the fireworks in your neighborhood, which are less loud and intense than a fireworks display, but the intensity of both the noise, light, and vibrations of extremely high powered firework displays may prove to much for them. Don't risk it. Hopefully you are not setting off fireworks in your neighborhood to terrify your neighbors and their pets, but if you are, even if your dog is comfortable with fireworks, please don't have them around while you are doing so. The dangers are numerous, to be generous. First and foremost, keep your own pet safe.

12. Oh, wait, but what if you live very near a location where they have a public fireworks display? I had this happen to a former student. My advice...leave. Pack up your dog, and spend the night somewhere else. A family member or friend's home, or even a hotel. You'r dog's emotional and physical well-being is paramount, and well worth the effort. Make sure you bring everything you need to implement the above protocols wherever you go.

So there they are, my most important tips to keep your dogs safe and comfortable on the Fourth of July. I'm sure there are others, but this is as good a start as any. And, much of the above also applies to your cats too. If you have other tried and true things you do on the Fourth, leave them in the comments. I'm sure we'd all love to hear what you do to keep your dogs safe.

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