The Fourth of July can be a fun time of year, but for the four-legged family member, it can be traumatizing.Animal shelters around the nation report a dramatic increase in lost pets during the holiday, and coupled with hot weather and toxins found during the summer, Independence Day can be a dangerous celebration for the family pet.There are steps pet owners can take, however, that will keep pets safe — especially ones that enjoy spending time outside.FireworksFact or myth? “If you coddle and coo to your dog during fireworks, you will be rewarding their fear and make it worse. You should just ignore your dog when he is acting scared.”Fiia Jokela, a veterinarian with Deer Run Animal Hospital in Schererville, said this is the worst thing a pet owner can do. It’s a myth — and she says fear is an emotion, not a behavior.“If you were nervous about flying on a plane, would you want your spouse to ignore your concerns and disregard your worries?” she said. “Or would it help you feel a bit better to have your spouse by your side comforting you, holding your hand, telling you a funny story, and distracting you from what is going on around you?”However, Jokela said it is important for pet owners to relax and stay calm. If a person acts anxious as well, it can reinforce fearful behaviors in pets.Try instead teaching a dog that scary things predict yummy food, or calming a pet with long, slow strokes down the back, she said. Creating a safe haven also may help anxious pets.“Hiding — as in a cave — is a natural psychological defense for dogs,” Jokela said. “Let your dog pick a hiding place such as in a closet or even in the bath tub if he feels safe there.”Attempt to drown out noise and lights as well, she said.“Close the curtains or go into a windowless bathroom or down in a basement,” she said. “Play talk radio at a moderate volume, read a book calmly out loud or play a white noise machine to drown out the noise.”For severe sufferers, pheromone products such as Adaptil can send a message of calming to the fear center of the brain, and other natural anxiety relieving nutritional supplements such as Zylkene may help, Jokela said.“Ask your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medications,” she said. “Medications for anxiety and fear are not a badge of shame. They are humane.”PoisonsThough sunscreen and insect repellents are commonly used on humans during the summer, experts warn people not to apply them to pets if they are not labeled specifically for animal use.“Human sunscreen can cause an upset digestive system if ingested, and DEET is toxic to animals — potentially causing neurological problems,” said Stephanie Anderson, development director at Humane Society Calumet Area in Munster.While white-furred dogs and those with paler skin can experience sunburn or skin cancer, only pet-grade sunscreen should be used, Anderson said.“Providing sun barriers such as shade and light clothing can also protect their skin, but be careful about overheating your dog,” she said.Keep lighter fluid, matches and fireworks away from pets as well, Anderson said.“All are damaging to your pet’s digestive system if ingested,” she said. “Citronella candles, insect coils and oils are also harmful, potentially causing nervous system depression.”If children enjoy glow jewelry at Fourth of July celebrations, don’t let pets play with or wear the decorations, Anderson said.“The luminescent substance inside these products is highly toxic, and can cause excessive drooling and gastrointestinal irritation,” she said. “The plastic parts can also cause intestinal blockage if swallowed.”PreparationBefore the Fourth, be prepared in case the family pet runs away.“Always supervise your pet outdoors, especially during noisy celebrations and gatherings,” she said. “Make sure your pet is wearing tags with up-to-date information in case they do escape from the house or yard.”Most shelters and animal controls have a three-day holding period for stray animals, Anderson said. After that time, however, an animal may be adopted to another family or euthanized.“Make sure you contact all your local animal control and shelter facilities in addition to local animal hospitals immediately to report your pet missing,” she said. “Have proof of ownership on hand at all times, such as photos of your pet, veterinary records and licensing information to prove you are the owner.”If you find a lost pet, according to the Humane Society of the United States, either take her to the address on her tag or bring her to the local animal shelter so she can be reunited with her family.
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