Important Safety Tips for Pets This 4th of July

When celebrating with family and friends this 4th of July, remember that fireworks and some common barbecue foods can be hazardous to the well-being of pets. The veterinary and toxicology experts at Pet Poison Helpline offered pet owners these tips for a safe and happy holiday.

"Pets are unassuming and curious," said Dr. Justine Lee, DVM, DACVECC, associate director of Veterinary Services at Pet Poison Helpline. "Don't let the holiday be ruined with a pet mishap. Prevention is key and taking a few simple steps can ensure a safe and happy holiday for everyone in your family, including your pets."

Fireworks are the biggest perpetrators of 4th of July issues for pets, the most common being pet noise phobias. The loud noises can cause fear and anxiety for pets of all kinds, including dogs and cats and even horses. It is best to keep dogs and cats a safe distance from the activity – indoors is best. For pets with severe noise phobias, a veterinarian can prescribe anti-anxiety drugs or sedatives to help ease the stress. Larger pets, like horses and other livestock, are extremely susceptible to noise phobias. When in suburban and rural areas where these animals live, be considerate and contact the horse or livestock owner prior to having large fireworks displays so they can take appropriate measures to contain and reduce stress for the animals.

While most pet owners are aware of noise phobias, many are unaware that unused fireworks can be poisonous if ingested by curious dogs or cats. Many contain hazardous chemicals like chlorates, potent oxidizing agents that are harmful to red blood cells and kidneys; soluble barium salts that cause a life-threatening drop in potassium; sulfur; and coloring agents, which can contain dangerous heavy metals. Gastrointestinal issues like vomiting, a painful abdomen and bloody diarrhea can result. The severity of the reaction will depend on the type of firework, the amount ingested and what type of coloring agents it contains. In severe cases, pets can suffer tremors or seizures, along with acute kidney failure, bone marrow changes, shallow breathing and jaundice (yellowing of the skin).

During backyard fireworks shows, it's not uncommon for fearless, unsupervised dogs to investigate flaming fused fireworks by biting into them. Obvious problems can result – thermal burn injuries to the nose, face, lips and mouth, as well as eye irritation. Emergency trips to the veterinarian are not uncommon in these situations. Avoid them by keeping pets a safe distance from fireworks – lit or unlit!

Outdoor barbecues are another age-old tradition on the 4th of July with rich savory meats, seasonal corn-on-the-cob and sweet desserts. Dogs would love to take part too, but unbeknownst to many pet owners, these common barbecue foods can make dogs sick.

Rich and fatty meats aren't toxic to dogs and cats, but can cause gastroenteritis including vomiting or diarrhea. However in severe cases, they can cause fatal pancreatitis, especially in certain dog breeds such as miniature schnauzers, Yorkshire terriers, and Shetland sheepdogs. Corn-on-the-cob is not toxic either, but can form a severe foreign body in the dog's intestines, resulting in vomiting and diarrhea. With corn cob ingestion, an expensive intestinal surgery may be necessary to remove the foreign mass. Other picnic dangers? Desserts made with xylitol, a natural sugar-free sweetener, or foods containing grapes or raisins can also be harmful to pets. Xylitol results in an acute drop in blood sugar and even liver failure at high doses, while grapes and raisins can result in severe, fatal acute kidney failure. It's best not to share these foods with dogs or cats.

The veterinary and toxicology experts at Pet Poison Helpline wish you and your loved ones a safe and happy 4th of July holiday. If, however, you think your dog or cat may have ingested something harmful, take action immediately. Contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline at 1-800-213-6680. Pet Poison Helpline is the most cost-effective animal poison control center in North America charging only $39 per call, including unlimited follow-up consultations.

Pet Poison Helpline also offers an iPhone application with an extensive database of plants, chemicals, foods and drugs that are poisonous to pets. It has powerful indexing feature that allows users to search for toxins, cross-referencing them by common and scientific terms, and full-color photos for identifying poisonous plants and substances. For emergencies, it has a direct dial feature to the veterinary experts at Pet Poison Helpline. Called Pet Poison Help, the iPhone app is available on iTunes. More information is available here.

About Pet Poison Helpline

Pet Poison Helpline, an animal poison control center based out of Minneapolis, is available 24 hours, seven days a week for pet owners and veterinary professionals that require assistance treating a potentially poisoned pet. The staff provides treatment advice for poisoning cases of all species, including dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, large animals and exotic species. As the most cost-effective option for animal poison control care, Pet Poison Helpline's fee of $39 per incident includes follow-up consultation for the duration of the poison case. Pet Poison Helpline is available in North America by calling 800-213-6680. Additional information can be found online at