As families across the country prepare for the 4th of July celebration, veterinarians warn this is an extremely stressful holiday for pets.

The loud bang and boom of fireworks and flashes of light can terrify many of our four-legged friends.

Even unlit fireworks pose a danger to pets, veterinarians warn. So do insect repellents, alcoholic beverages, and some foods people grill during holiday picnics.

To keep your dogs and cats safe this Fourth of July, veterinarians at The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal's Poison Control Center recommend the following:

• Never use fireworks around pets. Fireworks can cause severe burns or trauma to the face and paws of curious pets. Unused fireworks also pose a danger to pets because many contain potentially toxic substances, including potassium nitrate, arsenic, and other heavy metals;

• Do not take pets to fireworks displays. It's best to keep them in a quiet, sheltered, escape-proof part of your home. Some veterinarians recommend playing soothing background music for pets. And be sure they have plenty of water;

• Do not put "glow-in-the dark" jewelry on pets. Don't let them play with any of this jewelry, either. The luminescent substance in these products is not highly toxic, but excessive drooling and gastrointestinal irritation could result if your pets ingest the liquid. Pets can also suffer from intestinal blockage if they swallow large pieces of the plastic containers;

• Keep citronella candles, insect coils, and oil products out of pets reach. The ingestion of these products can cause stomach irritation and possibly even central nervous system depression. If inhaled, the oils can cause aspiration pneumonia in pets.

• Keep matches and lighter fluid away from pets. Some matches contain chlorates, which could potentially damage blood cells and result in difficulty breathingor even kidney disease in severe cases. Lighter fluid can also irritate the skin and--if ingested--cause gastrointestinal irritation and central nervous system depression. If lighter fluid is inhaled, aspiration pneumonia and breathing problems could develop;

• Never leave alcoholic beverages where pets can reach them. These drinks have the potential to poison pets. If ingested, an animal could become intoxicated and weak, severely depressed or lapse into a coma. Death from respiratory failure is also a possibility in severe cases;

• Do not apply sunscreen or insect repellents to your pet that are not specifically made for use on animals. Ingestion of sunscreen products can result in drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst and lethargy. Insect repellent that contains DEET can lead to neurological problems;

• Keep your pets on their normal diet. Any change, even for one meal, can give your pet severe indigestion and diarrhea. This is especially true for older animals that have more delicate digestive systems and nutritional requirements. And keep your pets away from foods that can be potentially toxic to them, including onions, chocolate, coffee, avocado, grapes, raisins, salt, and yeast dough;

Poison control

If you suspect your pet has become poisoned, immediately contact your veterinarian. If you go to the vet's office, take the package the suspected poison came in for reference. It's also helpful to collect--in a sealable plastic bag--any material your pet may have vomited or chewed.

Pet owners can also contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. There is a $60 consultation fee for this service.

Be prepared to give the veterinarians or toxicologists the following information:

• the species, breed, age, sex, weight and number of animals involved
• the animal's symptoms
• information regarding the exposure, including the agent (if known), the amount of the agent involved and the time elapsed since the time of exposure.

Veterinarians say it's also a good idea to invest in an emergency first-aid kit for your pet. The kit should contain:

• A fresh bottle of hydrogen peroxide, 3 percent USP (to induce vomiting);

• A turkey baster, bulb syringe or large medicine syringe (to administer the hydrogen peroxide);

• Saline eye solution;

• Artificial tear gel (to lubricate eyes after flushing);

• Mild grease-cutting dishwashing liquid (for bathing an animal after skin contamination);

• Forceps (to remove stingers);

• A muzzle (to protect against fear-or excitement-induced biting);

• A can of your pet's favorite wet food;

• A pet carrier

Pet owners should consult a veterinarian for directions on how and when to use these emergency first-aid items.

More about pets ...