By Lisa Wade McCormick

June 28, 2010
Celebrating the Fourth of July with fireworks and good food is a tradition with families nationwide.

But those celebrations can be dangerous to the four-legged members of your family, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) warns.

To protect your pets this Independence Day, the ASPCA recommends:

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

• Avoid taking pets to loud, crowded firework displays: Keep pets in a quiet, protected, and escape-proof part of your home;

• Don't leave alcoholic drinks where pets can reach them: Pets that ingest alcohol can become intoxicated and weak, severely depressed, or lapse into a coma. Death from respiratory failure is also possible in severe cases, the ASPCA warns;

• Never put glow jewelry on pets or let them play with it: The luminescent substance in these products is not highly toxic, but if ingested, can cause excessive drooling and gastrointestinal irritation. Intestinal blockage can occur if pets swallow 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 and possible central nervous system depression in pets, the ASPCA said. The oils can also cause aspiration pneumonia in pets that inhale the products;

• Use animal-friendly products only: Never apply sunscreen or insect repellents on your pets that are not specifically labeled for use on animals. Ingestion of sunscreen products can cause drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst, and lethargy in pets. The misuse of insect repellents that contain DEET can also lead to neurological problems, the ASPCA said.

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

• Keep pets on their regular diet. Any change, even for one meal, can give pets severe indigestion and diarrhea, the ASPCA said. This is especially true with older animals, which have more delicate digestive systems and nutritional requirements. Remember onions, chocolate, coffee, avocado, grapes and raisins, salt and yeast dough are potentially toxic to pets. The blistering "dog days" of summer can also pose serious health risks to pets, the ASPCA cautioned.

"Even the healthiest pets can suffer from dehydration, heat stroke and sunburn if they're overexposed to the heat," said Dr. Steven Hansen, a veterinary toxicologist and senior vice-president of ASPCA Animal Health Services.

But there are simple ways to keep pets safe from the scorching sun and other summer dangers, including:

• Keep pets cool and hydrated: Give pets plenty of water. They can dehydrate quickly in the heat. And make sure pets have a shady place to escape the sun's burning rays. When the temperature is blazing, don't let dogs linger on hot asphalt. A dog's body can heat up quickly and its sensitive paw pads can burn;

• Never leave pets alone in a parked vehicle: "On a hot day, even with the windows open, a parked automobile can become a furnace in no time, and heatstroke can develop, which is potentially fatal," warned Dr. Louise Murray, director of Medicine at the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital;

• Watch for signs of overheating and heat stroke in pets: "The symptoms of overheating in pets include excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling, mild weakness, seizures, and an elevated body temperature of over 104 degrees," Dr. Murray said. "Animals with flat faces, like pugs and Persian cats, are more susceptible to heat stroke since they cannot pant as effectively. These pets, along with the elderly, the overweight, and those with heart or lung diseases, should be kept cool in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible."

• Read and follow the directions on flea and tick products: The ASPCA said products that contain the chemical permethrin can be deadly to cats. Never use a flea and tick product intended for a dog on a cat -- or those made for cats on dogs. Use the products as directed;

• Keep pest control products away from pets: Rodenticides (mouse and rat baits), insecticides, herbicide lawn and flea and tick products can be harmful to cats and dogs if ingested. Avoid walking dogs in areas sprayed with insecticides or herbicide lawn products;

• Never leave pets unsupervised around a pool: Not all animals are good swimmers. Introduce pets to water gradually and make sure they wear flotation devices while on boats. Rinse off dogs after they swim in a pool to remove chlorine or salt from their fur. And try to keep dogs from drinking pool water, which contains chlorine and other chemicals that could cause stomach upset;

• Beware of High Rise Syndrome: "During warmer months, we see an increase in injured animals as a result of 'High-Rise Syndrome,' which occurs when pets fall out of windows or doors and are seriously or fatally injured," said Dr. Murray. "Pet owners need to know that this is completely preventable if they take simple precautions." Those steps include keeping all unscreened windows or doors closed and making sure adjustable screens are tightly secured.

The ASPCA advises pet owners to contact their veterinarians if their dogs or cats ingest a potentially toxic substance this summer. Pet owners can also contact the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center, which offers emergency assistance 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, at (888) 426-4435. A $65 consultation fee may be charged.