July 4 contains many hazards for pets

PHOENIX - Animal hospitals see as much as a 25 percent increase in patients on the July 4 holiday, so veterinary experts urge pet owners to take extra precautions for the whole weekend.

"July 4 is a very busy time for emergency and critical care veterinarians," said Dr. Jennifer Holm, a BluePearl veterinarian and group medical director who is board-certified in emergency and critical care. "Pets get injured, they eat all sorts of things they wouldn't normally be eating, and many get very stressed out by fireworks."

Pet owners should plan for the obvious July 4 pet dangers (firecrackers) as well as hazards they may never have thought about (grapes, swimming pools and the poodle next door).

In a new development this year, dog owners may want to consider turning to a medicine recently approved for use in dogs who are especially panicked by fireworks noise. It's called Sileo, and it's already familiar to veterinarians as a sedative.

Dr. Jill Sackman, who is senior medical director of BluePearl's Michigan hospitals and has advanced training in behavioral medicine, encouraged owners to talk to their family veterinarians about Sileo if they have dogs who are sensitive to loud noises.

The medicine is a gel administered onto the gums whenever noise gets intense. That flexibility can be helpful on the July 4 weekend, because sometimes neighbors produce more noise than the official fireworks displays, and often without any warning.

Here are some of the most common July 4 dangers veterinarians see, and what to do about them:

• Foreign body hazards. It's not unusual for emergency veterinarians to treat dogs with a corn cob or a rib bone they have swallowed. So be careful of what your dog may find by prowling the ground or open trash cans.

• Open doors. If you have guests, your front door will open multiple times. And with fireworks blasting outside, your cats and dogs may panic and bolt out the door. Keep a close watch.

• Food that makes pets sick. If you're hosting a barbecue, be careful about what gets fed to your pets, on purpose or accidentally.

Foods that can sicken dogs include: avocados, apple seeds, caffeinated beverages or alcohol, onions, potatoes, grapes, tomatoes, chocolate and sugar-free gum containing xylitol.

• Other dogs. A block party brings together the whole neighborhood, including dogs who might be extra jittery by the general noise and chaos. Agitated dogs may bite. Consider keeping your dog at home.

• Water. Do not assume all pets know how to swim. A crowded pool party is probably not the best time to find out.

• And at the risk of stating the obvious, don't let your pets anywhere near where people are setting off their own fireworks.

In general, said Holm, remember that July 4 can be scary and chaotic for pets. Enjoy your time with them, but do what you can to keep pets calm.

"I would say that July 4 is probably not the time you would want to explore a lot of new things with your pets," Holm said. "Use common sense and keep your pets safe."