Independence Day Not Always Cause for Pets to Celebrate
June 26, 2007
An archive of Pet Columns from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine is available online at Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Mandy Barth,

Most Americans pause about this time each year to celebrate Independence Day with parades, fireworks, and picnics. However, for some of our beloved family members the very thought of celebrating this patriotic holiday shifts their normally calm demeanor to one resembling a rocket's red glare.

From sun-up to sun-down, the traditional Fourth of July celebrations often bring harmful hazards to our furry friends. Dr. Amy Totten, veterinarian and internal medicine resident at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, Ill., recommends that pet owners err on the side of caution by leaving their pets in the safety of their home.

"I'm no different; I want to take my dog along with me to help celebrate the day. But, I know that the day's activities are not always enjoyable for him and must leave him at home where he is the most safe and comfortable," says Dr. Totten.

Most Fourth of July celebrations start out with a parade through town. While this provides a great source of entertainment for most family members, dogs can be frightened by the unfamiliar noises that accompany a parade. The blare of a police or fire siren, the harmonious toot from a marching band, and joyful shrieks from excited children are all enough to produce anxiety in your pet. With most parades also comes tossed candy. These sweet treats intended for humans are often snatched by the four-legged friend who is closer to the ground and can produce some unwanted outcomes in our pets, such as an upset stomach or even a toxic reaction.

The celebrations continue with barbecues and backyard picnics, accompanied by a spread that rivals Thanksgiving dinner. An unattended plate of food and an adult beverage can quickly become a feast for Fido, and can even more quickly turn into a holiday gone wrong for your pet.

Sparklers and small fireworks are also popular entertainment for children at Fourth of July celebrations. Although seemingly harmless for properly supervised children, pets can be easily injured by an errant spark or spooked by a small firecracker.

When the day winds down and the "oohs" and "aahs" begin flowing at the sight of a spectacular fireworks show, dogs often have a dramatically different reaction to the display. Your pet will likely be frightened by the big boomers, resulting in any number of anxiety-driven reactions. Normally calm pets who become frightened often result in an uncharacteristically aggressive behavior.

To prevent an unpleasant situation, Dr. Totten recommends leaving pets in the safety of your home. To minimize any anxiety-driven reactions, she recommends confining your dog to a crate or kennel in a well-secured room inside your home. This will reduce the sounds your pet is able to hear. You should provide your pet with ample food and water and any comforting items, such as a familiar toy or blanket. Dr. Totten also recommends relocating any outdoor pets to a well-ventilated indoor area, such as a garage.

Should it be necessary for your pet to accompany you to your celebration, Dr. Totten suggests several preventative measures:

  • Be cautious of the temperature. A pet can succumb to heat and humidity just as quickly as a human. Provide your dog with adequate water and never leave an animal in a vehicle or in direct sunlight.
  • Stay a safe distance away from fireworks or loud noises that can produce anxiety in your pet.
  • Remain alert to your pet, making sure it doesn't eat something not intended for pets.
  • Be cautious of aggressive behavior, which is often a reaction to high anxiety situations.
  • Keep proper identification on your pet. Dogs often flee stressful situations; ID tags and microchips help identify where a lost pet belongs.

For more information about helping your pet cope with anxiety associated with loud noises, contact your local veterinarian.

An archive of Pet Columns from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine is available online at Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Mandy Barth,

Veterinary Extension/Office of Public Engagement
University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine