I love the Fourth of July. I love the picnics and parades, and especially the fireworks. But I love my pets, too, so I usually stay home.
My cats live indoors, so I don't worry about them running off in fear, and my backyard is double-fenced, so I don't worry about my dogs bolting when let outside, either. But I know I would spend the evening worrying if I left them alone, and with good reason: Pet-advocacy groups warn that more pets are lost or killed, injured or panicked on this day than on any other.
Even if your pet is not the nervous type, it is a good idea to think twice before heading out the evening of July 4, or at least to take some precautions. Here are some tips:
Line up some chemical calm: If you know your pet looks for a place to hide and shiver at the neighborhood's first noise, call your veterinarian in advance to get a medication to keep him calm. While you are at it, ask if your vet is available for after-hours emergencies, and if not, get the location and phone number of the nearest emergency clinic. You never know if you will need it. One usually calm dog I know jumped through a sliding-glass door after firecrackers went off in the yard behind him. Fortunately, his owners knew where to take him, and he got the prompt care he needed to save his life.
Set up a safe room: For truly terrified pets, it's not a bad idea to secure them in quiet room, or a crate if they're used to one. Synthetic pheromone sprays – Feliway for cats, Adaptil for dogs, both available at pet stores – mimic the natural substances that calm anxious pets, and help many pets over the rough spots. Clothing that "hugs" your pet, such as Thundershirts, has also been shown to help. And many people have used the homeopathic Rescue Remedy on their pets; a few drops in drinking water may help.
Keep your pets secure: Make sure all your pets are safely confined and provided with plenty of fresh, cool water (nervous animals drink lots of water). Bring outside pets inside, at least into the garage. Allow your cat no access to the outside, and be sure to keep your dog on a leash outside, even in your own yard if you're not sure about your fencing. Frightened dogs have been known to go over – or even through – fences that would normally hold them. And cats are often the targets of cruel pranksters, some of whom enjoy terrorizing animals with fireworks.
Prepare for the worst: Make sure your pet is wearing a collar with ID tags. When animal-control agencies are closed, there's no way for your pet to be traced to you unless you have made sure your phone number is also on that collar. And if you don't have time to get your pet microchipped, get it done before next year's fireworks.
Know what to do if you lose your pet: Start looking as soon as you discover your pet is missing. Cover your neighborhood with fliers and check with veterinarians, emergency clinics and shelters. When dealing with shelters, remember that a phone call is not enough. Shelter staff members cannot remember every animal in the place, and may not be able to recognize your pet from your description even if they have seen it. It is important to check in person at least every other day.
With so much to worry about, I feel a lot better staying home. Besides, I live close enough to my city's fireworks show that I can get a pretty good view without leaving my pets alone.
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.petconnection.com. Back columns: www.sacbee.com/spadafori.