Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Planning ahead for the Fourth of July holiday can make it safer and less challenging for pets

Summer is officially here, and it's a season filled with a lot of fun for us humans — but from a pet's vantage point, it can prove to be quite difficult — especially during Fourth of July and other gatherings.

Fireworks (and in some cases gunfire) are unfamiliar and frightening to pets of all species.  

Independence Day isn't my favorite holiday because of that. It's hard to see so many pets frightened by the noise and lights associated with fireworks. As we've all experienced, the noise of fireworks doesn't occur just on July 4, and that can be challenging.

This time of year — along with New Year's Eve — are prime times for missing pets, as many become frightened and dart out open doors. Injuries from coming into contact with fireworks can pose a threat during this time as well.  

The onslaught of extra people in the house — or lack thereof, if you're away — can bring on anxiety too, as can the noise that sometimes accompanies the festivities. Here are a few tips that I can offer to keep pets safe, sound and happy:
  • Make sure you have up-to-date photos of your pets. You probably have a lot of photos of your pets either around your home or floating around in your digital camera. Having a picture of each of your pets in different poses and settings could ensure that you'll be reunited with a lost pet. 
  • Be sure that your pet is microchipped. Click here to see how easily the procedure is done.
  • Ensure that your pet is wearing a collar with clearly marked identification that includes the pet's name, your name, address and telephone number. (I often make the suggestion that a client have a tag made with my contact information while they are out of town.)
  • If you're hosting a gathering and your pets have a tendency to be skittish with unfamiliar people, consider keeping them in an area of the home that will be undisturbed by anyone, with the door shut. In the case of a dog, a crate might be an added source of security. Play soothing music, talk radio or white noise to try and block out any unwanted noise that will cause anxiety. A free download for calming music is available by clicking here.
  • If you find that fireworks or other loud noises are troublesome for your pet, consider using what I call "storm treats" to try and curb a negative association with the noise. Directions for playing a game involving storm treats are listed here. Also, a pressure wrap can be helpful. Swaddling and deep pressure have been proven to provide both humans and animals a sense of comfort. Temple Grandin, Ph.D. expands on the topic of deep pressure in animals. Some dogs can benefit from wearing a Thundershirt, or a snug-fitting T-shirt. The theory is that the sensation of deep pressure, (in this case a variation of it) around the torso primarily, or swaddling — modulates the central nervous system, producing a calming effect. 
  • Consider using T-Touch, an approach first developed for horses by Linda Tellington-Jones, and is used worldwide to address a number of issues, including noise phobias in canines.
  • Try dog-appeasing pheromone, also referred to as DAP, a synthetic pheromone produced by lactating bitches. Undetectable and equally safe for anyone outside of the canine species, DAP has been effective in addressing anxiety of various forms for dogs and can be found in a spray form, a collar that is worn and replaced every four weeks or in a diffuser. You might recall my talking about Feliway, the feline version of the same pheromone. DAP helps to attain an overall sense of well being in dogs.
  • Never force a companion animal to be present during a fireworks display. The noise, flashes of light and the smells can be confusing for pets. Scared pets can react by snapping or biting, creating a very unsafe situation for both human and pet.
The great thing about these specific suggestions is that they are easy to implement, and none of them have side effects. Depending on the severity of your pet’s discomfort when it comes to anxiety associated with fireworks, you can tailor a plan of action that works by trying one at a time, or perhaps more than one in tandem.

If your pet is sound sensitive and these other tips don't seem to help, you're not alone. It's advisable to consult with your veterinarian to prepare a treatment plan to make them as comfortable as possible.

Also, a quick inspection of your yard on a regular basis during this time of year is encouraged. Pieces of spent fireworks can land anywhere and curious pets, especially dogs, will readily pick them up and could possibly ingest them. (Don't forget to be vigilant on your walks.)

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.