From food to fireworks: Protecting your pets from holiday hazards

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(WFXR) — The Fourth of July is a day filled with tasty food, festive fireworks, and other fun activities, but despite all the exciting distractions, pet parents need to take precautions to protect their furry friends from certain holiday hazards.

Nexstar’s WFXR compiled a list of safety tips from VCA Animal Hospitals and the American Veterinary Medical Association that will help you avoid potential pet pitfalls so you and your furry friends can have a happy, healthy Fourth of July.

Food misfortunes

Holidays are chock full of delicious dishes that our pets would just love to taste. However, for the sake of their health, you need to resist their puppy dog eyes and kitty cuteness because many human foods are poisonous for pets, with even a small bite resulting in a trip to the emergency room.

VCA Animal Hospitals put together this list of the most common and serious toxic foods for furry friends:

  • Chocolate (especially dark chocolate and baker’s chocolate), coffee, and caffeine: Ingestion in small amounts can cause vomiting and diarrhea, but large amounts can cause seizures and heart arrhythmias.
  • Alcohol: Even if they lap up a fairly small amount of alcohol, pets will go from stumbling and vomiting to severe symptoms, like a coma and even death.
  • Grapes and raisins: Just a single grape or raisin can cause kidney failure in dogs. That includes baked goods with raisins in them, like carrot cake.
  • Onions and garlic: Whether they’re raw vegetables or they’re in powdered form, these flavor boosters damage the red blood cells of pets, especially cats.
  • Sugarless gums and candies that contain xylitol: This sweetener results in a life-threatening drop in blood sugar and liver failure in dogs. In other words, if you keep gum and mints in your purse, make sure to store it out of reach.
  • Macadamia nuts: While most nuts are very fatty and can cause vomiting and diarrhea, macadamia nuts will lead to weakness, tremors, and hyperthermia.
  • Yeast dough: This will keep rising in your pet’s stomach, leading to bloating and ethanol production, which causes the same toxicity as alcohol.

There are also other foods that aren’t fully toxic, but can still cause Fourth of July food emergencies for your pets, according to experts:

  • Fatty foods — such as bacon or butter — can lead to severe stomach issues and pancreatitis
  • Non-edible parts of foods, like bones, peach pits, corn cobs, and watermelon rinds can cause obstructions
  • Moldy foods can result in a seriously upset stomach
  • Some pets are actually lactose intolerant, so avoid giving pets milk and dairy products to prevent diarrhea and an upset stomach

“So many foods can be potentially problematic that we recommend remembering just one rule: no human food for your pet!” VCA Animal Hospitals stated. “Ask anyone spending time with your pet to adhere to the rule as well and make healthy treats available instead so that everyone can still pamper your pet with an alternative.”

In addition, while kebab skewers, cutlery, and barbecue grills are not food, your pet may not know that, so be sure to keep these items out of gulping or pawing reach.

If you’re hosting a Fourth of July gathering, you should also make sure to check your yard for food scraps or fireworks debris that your curious pets might try to consume.

Fireworks fears

While many people love fireworks, we can’t say the same for our pets. With their keen senses of hearing and smell, they can register this festive tradition as something to fear, so keep your pet away from any place where fireworks may be lit.

If you know your pet has a fear of fireworks, VCA Animal Hospitals encourage you to teach them some coping techniques ahead of the big night to help them feel more comfortable when you leave them at home as you go to parties, parades, and fireworks displays:

  • Set up a safe space ahead of time: Choose a spot in your home where your pet likes to relax that will also buffer the sights and sounds of the fireworks — such as a walk-in closet or a room with blackout curtains — and then fill it with comfortable beds, some favorite toys and treats. This way, your pet will have a “happy place” where they can go to feel secure when they get scared.
  • Drown out the sound: Close all the windows and doors in your home and leave music playing in your pet’s safe place to help block out the booms during the fireworks display.
  • Provide plenty of distractions: Give your furry friend something fun to focus on during the celebration by pulling out their favorite toys or stuffing toys with treats.
  • Don’t make a fuss: While it’s natural to want to comfort your pet when they get distressed, excessive comforting may actually reward your pet’s behavior or validate their fears. Instead, just give them a few calming pats and proceed as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening.
  • Consider calming supplements or pheromones: There are several natural supplements designed to reduce anxiety for pets. If you give some to your furry friend before the fireworks begin, it may help them relax and reduce their reactivity. 

While this is not exactly a coping mechanism, experts say it’s still important to make sure your home and yard are secure and that your pet is wearing their collar with updated tags in case they freak out and run off amid all the noise — which is a common occurrence amid the Fourth of July. You should also consider having them microchipped.

Parasite prevention

In addition, with any outdoor outings, you need to keep in mind that unwelcome guests — such as fleas and ticks — may try to crash your pets’ party. These parasites are hiding in woods, tall grasses, and leaf litter, just waiting for a host to pass by.

Not only are these pests a nuisance, but VCA Animal Hospitals says that many of them carry diseases that they can pass on to our pets or even to us:

  • Fleas can pass tapeworms to pets.
  • Ticks can transmit Lyme disease to both dogs and people.
  • Mosquitoes can spread heartworm disease to pets.
  • If you have a cat at home, they could also be exposed to the fleas, ticks, or mosquitoes that ride in on you or your dog.

In order to tackle this problem, all you need are flea and tick preventatives, which are not only highly effective, but they are also quite easy to administer.

Other holiday hazards

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, citronella candles and tiki torch oil can cause stomach problems if swallowed, or even lung irritation if the fumes are inhaled. You can also protect your pets from serious burns by keeping them away from fires, hot coals, and sparklers.

Since the Fourth of July is a summer celebration, you need to keep an eye on the weather because too much sun, heat, and humidity can be dangerous to pets. Therefore, the American Veterinary Medicine Association says you should keep animals inside when it’s extremely hot and/or humid; make sure they have access to shady spots and plenty of water if they do come outside, which should not be for a long time in hot weather; and know the signs of a pet overheating.

If you decide to let your pets cool off in or near a swimming pool, you need to play lifeguard, as well as make sure the water isn’t too hold or cold.

Meanwhile, if you’re hosting a holiday gathering, ask your guests to help prevent your pets from escaping, even if that means leaving notes on doors and gates.

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