By Lisa Wade McCormick

July 2, 2008
Animal shelters call them the "July 4th dogs." They're dogs who run off during Fourth of July celebrations because they're frightened by the loud noises. These scared and panicked canines are then rescued by animal control officers or Good Samaritans and taken to local shelters.

According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), animal shelters nationwide are growing accustomed to seeing these "July 4th dogs."

But the HSUS says there are some simple steps pet owners can take to protect their canines — and ensure they don't become one of those lost pets.

"With a little bit of planning and forethought, you can enjoy the excitement of the Fourth of July and know that your animal companion is safe, sound, and enjoying a little peace and quiet," said Nancy Peterson, an issues specialist with The Humane Society if the United States.

Advice from HSUS

To protect your pets this Independence Day, the HSUS offers the following advice:

• Never use fireworks near or around your pets;

• Avoid taking pets to fireworks displays;

• Keep pets indoors at home in a sheltered, quiet area. Some animals become destructive when frightened. Remove any items that pets can destroy or that could be harmful if chewed. Leave the television or radio on if you leave home;

• If your pet is distressed by loud noises like thunder, talk to your veterinarian before July 4th about ways to alleviate any fears or problems that may arise during fireworks displays;

• Never leave pets outside unattended — even in a fenced yard or on a chain. When they're scared, pets who normally wouldn't leave the yard may escape and become lost; others could get tangled in their chain;

• Make sure your pets are wearing their identification tags. That way they can be returned if they escape and become lost. Animals found running loose should be taken to a local animal shelter so they can reunited with their owners;

Never leave your pets in the car. In just a few short minutes, pets can suffer serious health effects — or even die — from breathing the hot air inside a car. And partially opened windows do not provide enough air and could give thieves an opportunity to steal your pets.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) also reminds pet owners watch their animals closely during Fourth of July picnics and other celebrations. Some party foods and drinks — and even sunscreens and grilling products — could poison to your pets.

Advice from ASPCA

The ASPCA also warns pet owner to never use fireworks around their animals. Other safety tips from the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center include:

• Never leave alcoholic drinks unattended where pets can reach them. Alcoholic beverages can poison pets. If ingested, the animal could become intoxicated and weak, severely depressed, or go into a coma. Death from respiratory failure is also possible in severe cases;

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

• Keep matches and lighter fluid out of pets reach. Some matches contain chlorates, which could damage blood cells and result in difficulty breathing — or kidney disease in severe cases. Lighter fluid can irritate a pet's skin, and if ingested, can produce gastrointestinal irritation and central nervous system depression. If lighter fluid is inhaled, aspiration pneumonia and breathing problems could develop;

• Keep your pets on their normal diet. Any change, even for one meal, can give pets severe indigestion and diarrhea. This is especially true with older animals, which have more delicate digestive systems and nutritional requirements. And remember, onions, chocolate, coffee, avocado, grapes, raisins, salt and yeast dough are potentially toxic to pets;

• Never put glow jewelry on pets or let them play with these items. While the luminescent substance 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;

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

"While exposure to lit fireworks can potentially result in severe burns and/or trauma to the face and paws of curious pets, even unused fireworks can pose a danger," the agency says. "Many types contain potentially toxic substances, including potassium nitrate, arsenic and other heavy metals."

Pet owners who suspect their animals have ingested a poisonous substance can contact the ASPCAs Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. A $60 consultation fee may apply.