Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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No Fireworks for Fido

Pet Column for the week of June 26, 2008

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Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ashley Mitek
Information Specialist

If you heard fireworks anytime other than the Fourth of July, you might think a war zone was nearby and run for cover. It is important to remember this when the "booms" and "bangs" of this Independence Day start and Fido cowers under the bed, with paws holding his army helmet on tight.

On the scheme of things, a dog that runs under the bed and trembles is probably the least of your worries. "We've seen dogs that panic after hearing fireworks and end up running into cars, or falling out windows after scratching through screens," says Dr. Maureen McMichael, head of the emergency room and critical care unit at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana.

Unfortunately, she also has seen several dogs end up with severe cases of heat stroke on the Fourth of July. Like the time she treated a dog that ran for three hours straight after being frightened by nearby fireworks.

"I think the best thing owners can do if they are not sure how their animal will react to the sound of fireworks is to be with them at home during the worst time," recommends Dr. McMichael. Kenneled animals scared by loud noises can injure themselves trying to escape. It's also important to note that if you know your dog or cat will be terrified of the loud noises, your veterinarian can prescribe a light sedative to make the experience less traumatic.

Fireworks aren't the only item to be concerned with over the holiday weekend though. With the hot weather, many people and pets find their way to a pool. "There are a lot of near drownings," says Dr. McMichael. She explains that animals can swim, but they can't climb in and out of pools using a ladder like humans can. "They end up swimming for 20-30 minutes and then get so exhausted that they drown." Although pool water may look relatively clean, pets do not know that it's chlorinated, and chlorine toxicity can result if they drink too much.

Barbecuing also poses problems. Although most animals are accustomed to eating the same brand of pet food everyday, many people feed their pets table scraps while grilling outside. When they are given a nice piece of steak, or a corncob to gnaw on, gastrointestinal problems can result. Eating too much fat could cause pancreatitis, a very serious condition, and having a cob of corn stuck somewhere in the piping isn't a small problem either.

It is also important to note that with summer comes flea and tick season. With the economy in trouble, some owners have tried to save money by using their dog's flea and tick preventatives on their cat. The only problem with this is that certain brands of these drugs are manufactured solely for use on dogs. Using the product otherwise will make for one unhappy cat and a trip to the veterinarian.

As the nation's day of independence approaches, there are several hazards our pets face. One of which can be easily avoided says Dr. McMichael, "I strongly recommend owners not take their pets to the fireworks." Even if you think they will not be frightened or run away, Dr. McMichael mentions that a dog's hearing is much more sensitive than ours. Earplugs might work for you, but trying that in your dog is apt to do more harm than good.

For more information about protecting your pets around Independence Day, contact your local veterinarian.