Keep pets safe from holiday fireworks, temptations

  • Posted: Saturday, December 28, 2013 3:00 p.m.

It is hard to believe that December is almost over and New Year's Eve is this week. The New Year comes in with a bang - literally.

As we get ready to ring in 2014, fireworks are essential. While these displays are awe-inspiring, we need to remember that they can have some negative effects on our furry family.

The noise and smell of fireworks can make many pets nervous and some terrified. Some pets will even try to retrieve fireworks that move or are thrown.

Here are a few helpful tips to keep your pet safe from harmful fireworks and other temptations this New Year's Eve.

1. Avoid leaving festive foods and decorations where your pet can reach them. Chocolate and alcohol can be toxic necessitating an emergency room visit. Balloons, streamers, party hats and confetti can cause vomiting if consumed and possibly even intestinal obstruction, which could require surgery.

2. Keep your pet inside if possible. Many outside pets are lost on New Year's Eve when they get scared from the noise of the fireworks and run away. In addition, we have heard of dogs jumping fences and digging holes under fences to escape. Once inside, all animals should be kept away from stairs that they could fall down if agitated or glass windows and doors that they could bolt through.

3. Keep your pet in a small area/room or with you. Crate-trained dogs can be put in their kennel, which is often a "safe" place for them. Cats do well in small rooms such as bathrooms or laundry rooms. They should have access to water, food and their litter box.

4. Remain calm. Sometimes in our desire to comfort, we can actually make things worse by reinforcing the stressed behavior. I know from personal experience that my lab, Ariel, panics when the fire alarm goes off in our house ... even when the battery needs to be changed and it just beeps. She paces and pants for hours.

It is so upsetting to her that we thought we were going to have to take her into the emergency clinic one night. Instead of saying "it's OK," which reinforces a behavior in most cases, try to stay calm. Pets pick up on your anxiety level and the calmer you are, the more likely they will be to settle down. It is best to act as normal as possible and keep your normal routine.

5. Keep them occupied. Make sure they have several safe chew toys as a distraction. The noise of the television can mask the sounds of fireworks and can be a great distraction if your pet is use to it.

6. Try dressing them up ... in a Thunder Shirt. In 2009, the Journal of Applied Animal Behavioral Science printed a study that supported the use of a form-fitting shirt in reducing storm/noise phobia in dogs. In this study, the beneficial effect improved after the shirt was worn several times, so try this out before the big night.

7. Try lavender oil. In June of 2009, the American Journal of Veterinary Research printed a study that revealed that dogs treated with lavender oil had a lower heart rate than dogs treated with a placebo.

In 2006, the Journal of the Veterinary Medical Association printed a study in which dogs with a history of travel-induced anxiety were exposed to lavender aromatherapy while traveling for three consecutive days. Those dogs experienced more time sitting and resting and less time vocalizing than dogs that also had a history of travel-induced anxiety that had not been exposed to lavender aromatherapy.

While I can't guarantee that this works, some people swear by it. They let their pets smell the oil or place a few drops on their pet's collar or bed prior to events that they think will be stressful.

8. Make sure they have identification. Be sure your pet is wearing a collar with identification tags with current information in case he gets lost. Avoid choke chains, especially if your pet will be left unsupervised. Cats should wear break-away collars.

Remember to keep a watchful eye on your pet this New Year and have your veterinarian's number (or the emergency clinic that covers their after-hours care) available if needed.

Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. To send questions, go to Veterinaryspecialtycare.com and click the "ask the pet docs" icon.

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