“At about midnight, our neighbors had an impromptu fireworks display that lasted over an hour,” Maggie’s owner Brad Benz tells HealthyPet.com. “Maggie was terrified. She was up on the bed panting and shaking — a nervous wreck. Nothing could calm her down.”
Maggie is not alone — this Independence Day weekend, while we humans enjoy small town parades, family barbecues and late night fireworks displays, thousands of pets all across the U.S. will be in a panic. You see, Fido and Fluffy do not understand that the “rockets red glare” and the “bombs bursting in air” we enjoy every 4th of July are just humans’ idea of (relatively) harmless fun.
This 4th of July weekend, pet parents are urged to remember that holiday fireworks are often at the center of pet injuries, and the proper measures should be taken to keep all dogs and cats as safe as possible as Americans celebrate their country’s birthday.
While the caption on a video shown on ABC’s Good Morning America describes the short clip as “a funny video [that shows] a dog trying to catch fireworks,” what happens in the video could have been far from a laughing matter.
Dogs have been known to try and attack fireworks or firecrackers, eat them, catch them or try to play with them, sometimes resulting in horrible injuries — and even death. In 2010 a dog tried to fetch a lit firework, and the rocket exploded in his mouth. The resulting wounds on the German Shepherd’s mouth and face were so severe the dog had to be euthanized. Dogs who’ve had run-ins with bottle rockets and mortars have been burned, have damaged limbs and have even lost eyes as a result.
“People toss a firework or firecracker in the air, and the dog jumps up, swallows it, and the firecrackers cause severe damage to the external organs,” Colorado veterinarian Eliza Mazzaferro explains.
Dr. Mazzaferro says fireworks can cause injuries in less direct ways, too.
“Pets get anxious and break out of kennels, jump through windows and get lacerations, and when loose, can get hit by cars,” Dr. Mazzaferro says. Very anxious pets have been known to hurt themselves trying to flee from the unsettling sounds of fireworks. “I have seen them bite through a metal cage and injure their teeth and gums, and also jump through plate glass windows,” explains Dr. Mazzaferro. “They try to escape the noise, not knowing that it is outside.”
Many animal shelters and rescue organizations are taking precautions in the days leading up to 4th of July festivities, knowing full well what can happen when a building full of animals is frantic with terror. A November fireworks show near a shelter in the United Kingdom frightened dogs so badly they literally tore out their claws and ripped up their paws, overcome with terror, scratching at their cages to get free. In the weeks following the display, some dogs were still jumpy, clearly shell-shocked from the ordeal. Similar scenes are sure to play out in shelters and homes here in the states this weekend. Familiar with horror stories like this one, the staff at the Rancho Cucamonga Animal Care and Adoption Center are moving all of the animals in their care inside the shelter building, explains the organization’s animal care supervisor, Erika Gamez.
Staff will also crank up the volume on some soothing classical music, playing it throughout the facility, hoping to calm any anxious animals and drown out the booms and bangs of fireworks as best as they can. Gamez tells the Associated Press once the nearby town fireworks displays begin, some animals will panic, startled by the loud, unfamiliar noises, while others will stress out because of their shelter mates’ fright.
“It’s a trickle-down effect,” Gamez explains.
Vicky Fletcher, Chief Animal Services Officer of the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department, which serves Woodland, California and other nearby communities, tells the Daily Democrat that last year’s too-close-for-comfort fireworks display took place at a high school just down the street from the animal shelter.
“It was a disaster,” Fletcher remembers. “We had a lot of panicked animals in [the] shelter. It was like bombs going off inside the building. Their ears are sensitive, obviously much more so than ours.”
Though the display has changed locations, moving across town to a different high school this year, Fletcher knows to expect a lot of stressed-out animals this holiday weekend. Taking in frightened or injured animals around Independence Day is inevitable, she says.
“They dig out from underneath fences, they chew through fences, they harm themselves to get away from the sound because they don’t know what it is,” Fletcher says. “All they know is that it’s loud and scary.”
Fletcher says there is one thing pet parents can do for Fido and Fluffy this 4th — stay home. Dog and cat owners should keep their pets inside, secure and supervised, and just having mom or dad there while the fireworks are going off outside can have a calming effect on scared pets.
“If there’s nobody home telling them it’s okay, there’s no comfort zone,” Fletcher explains.