10 Dog Trainer-Approved 4th of July Pet Safety Tips to Make the Holiday Easier for Your Dog or Cat
As we gather for 4th of July holiday festivities, it's essential to remember that our four-legged pals might not view the celebration quite the same as we do. Oh sure—they'll be on the lookout for dropped snacks (more on that in a bit!) and might even be in a frisky party mood if they're extroverted types.
But there are a few 4th of July safety points to check off your holiday planning list so dogs and cats can have a fun time, along with the necessary comfort they might require when the siss-boom-bah begins.
1. Let's Start With the Obvious: Fireworks
It's really no surprise that animals are afraid of fireworks, or any backyard whizbangs, firecrackers, and other loud, sparky things. Curtis Kelley, CPDT-KA, is a trainer, pet behaviorist, and owner of Pet Parent Allies in Philadelphia. He says as a result, it's a challenge to comfort our pets on the 4th of July for many reasons, especially since we can't make the environment less scary.
"Even with advanced soundproofing in our homes, our pets' hearing is acute enough they can hear the rumble of and boom of fireworks anyway," Kelley says. "Fireworks are usually lit at night when they're more visible, but that also makes our pets more nervous about it. There's no way to explain that literal explosions in the sky are fine and that we like it."
He adds that since humans have such an opposite emotional response, we're often caught between wanting to enjoy the show and worrying about making it less scary for our animals. "There isn't much of a way to practice or desensitize our pets. Not many people have access to fireworks, and even if they did, creating an environment where [the noise] it's predictable and far away isn't possible," he says. "So our pets are essentially ambushed with it every year."
What can you do to help your pets cope? Daily Paws' Pet Health and Behavior Editor Haylee Bergeland, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA, RBT, offers these tips for pets on the 4th of July.
2. Update Tags, Microchips, and Trackers!
According to the ASPCA, one in five pets goes missing "after being scared by loud noises"—not only fireworks, but also thunderstorms, vehicles, rambunctious people, and other sudden noises. Plus, when party guests are coming and going, it's super easy for a frightened kitty or pup to slink out an open door and away from the commotion.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported 4th of July pet statistics in 2020 that indicated more pets go missing July 4–6 than any other time of the year: about a 30 to 60 percent increase!
3. Noise Control: What to Do With an Anxious Pet
Warrick Vet points out that noise aversion is a real condition for cats and dogs. In fact, up to 40 percent of dogs develop anxiety as a result of the condition. Signs include excessive pacing or panting, more vocalizing than usual, crouching low to the floor or hiding, having accidents in the house, damaging furniture, or attempts to flee.
One 4th of July pet safety tip Kelley suggests is to condition your pet with a "noise" cue. With the help of another person, here's how you do it:
- One person counts down from three or five, then makes an unseen bang. They are visible, but a wall or corner obscures their hand, or they're not visible altogether.
- After counting down, they make a sound, like a knock on the wall, keys jangling, pan tapping, etc. The other person gives the dog a treat as the sound is happening.
- Repeat a few times, then take a break. You want to make sure the dog's startle response decreases every time.
- After practicing the exercise a few times, name it "noise."
- Then say "noise," and treat as you bang. "The treats have to be worth it that your pet wants to opt-in knowing what's coming after you say 'noise'," Kelley says.
If you have time to train your pet a few days before people arrive and activities begin, great! If not, there are a few other things you can try.
4. Create the Perfect Comfy Retreat Spot
If your 4th of July pets don't already have special nests to escape to when the hubbub starts and the crowds are too much, now's the time to make them!
Find an out-of-the-way spot for a cozy cat bed or dog mat. Kelley suggests using thick curtains to muffle the sound around it, and tuck in their favorite blanket and a shirt with your scent on it. Then amp up the spa treatment!
"The products I find most helpful are an Adaptil [for dogs] or Feliway [for cats] plug-in," Kelley says. "This releases a steady supply of calming pheromone into the air that works to calm your pet as they breathe it in." Provide positive reinforcement to encourage your pets to seek out their spot when the active environment is just too much to handle. Calming a dog on the 4th of July might also require the use of a thunder shirt.
He also recommends trying over-the-counter calming remedies for dogs or a brand called Quiet Moments for both cats and dogs. Be sure to first consult your veterinarian before giving these treats a try.
Ideally, Kelley says, these suggestions work best if you employ all of them in combination before and during the festivities. Some anxious animals might even need prescription medication, but it takes several weeks to take effect.
5. Planning a BBQ? Consider What Might Slip Off the Table
Keeping pets safe on the 4th of July isn't all about the atmosphere. It's also important to craft a menu that doesn't put your critters at risk of nibbling something they shouldn't. (Seriously, it doesn't even have to be the 4th of July for dogs to eat just about anything!)
Keep any alcoholic drinks out of reach too, as even a few licks of beer or any other libation can poison a small dog. (There is such a thing as non-alcoholic dog beer though, if you really want your canine buddy to celebrate Independence Day by cracking open a cold one with you.)
6. Make Sure Holiday Decorations Are Out of Reach
We know you know to keep all sparklers, swirly snakes, firecrackers, and other backyard match-lit amusements far, far, far away from pets. But do you know that other party goods, such as streamers, table buntings, tinsel, banners, glow jewelry/wave sticks, and firework debris also present 4th of July pet safety hazards? If your furry friend accidentally ingests any of these items, it might cause dangerous gastrointestinal irritation and intestinal blockages.
Hang decorations high out of muzzle reach, and make sure someone is periodically doing a clean sweep of the area to pick up fallen items.
7. Keep Pets Away From Toxic Chemicals
This might seem like a no-brainer too, but when the festivities are in full swing (Or a curious cat knocks something over within a dog's reach!) outdoor items might put your pet at risk. These include:
- Citronella candles
- Insect repellent coils
- Lighter fluid
- Tiki torch oil
- Human sunscreen instead of pet-formulated sunscreen
The ASPCA indicates that contact or ingestion of these products might cause skin or stomach irritation, damaged blood cells, breathing difficulty, and other medical conditions. Also keep this in mind when applying insect repellent. If your pet loves to give you kisses, look for pet-friendly alternatives.
8. Safeguard Your Pet's Wellbeing, Even If They Can't Be With You
If you're planning a fun family outing with a cookout at the park followed by watching a fireworks display, keep your fur babies at home with a pet sitter. Unfortunately, taking them to the light show but leaving them in the car simply isn't a good idea. Nor should they be with you on the blanket, as a large crowd of unknown people and frightful noises might be too much for them to handle.
Best they stay home in their perfect comfy spot where everything is familiar! If they normally like to be outside, that's fine. But even then, it's critical that on the 4th of July, pets not be left unattended.
9. Give Them Extra Love and Attention Before the Festivities
This 4th of July pet safety tip might not seem as obvious as the others, but Kelley says taking instruction from what your pet does naturally can be most helpful so they feel less stressed. "Give them plenty to do with their brain and body beforehand, and go gentle on them for several days after," he says. Here's Kelley roaming the wilderness with his gorgeous red Doberman, Vista.
So if your normal routine is to take a nice hike with your dog (or cat!) or a refreshing swim (probably not so much with the cat), stick with it and other aspects of their daily structure to reassure them all is well and will be again when the craziness dies down.
10. Have Your Emergency Contacts Ready
The Humane Society of the United States encourages pet parents to be prepared for all contingencies, so:
- Confirm the holiday hours of your vet clinic, and store the facility number in your phone.
- Also identify the closest 24/7 emergency clinic in the event your veterinarian isn't available.
RELATED: More Helpful Pet Holiday Safety Tips