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9 Memorial Day Pet Safety Tips

Veterinarian Dr. Shea Cox on how to celebrate the unofficial start of summer (and avoid the animal ER).

A woman and a man grilling outside with a dog.
Mediteraneo / Adobe Stock

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Memorial Day can be sneakily stressful for pets. While many people celebrate the unofficial start of summer with parades, fireworks, and BBQs, others spend it in the ER waiting room while their pet is treated for an array of holiday-induced emergencies. I’ve seen pets come in with serious lacerations from jumping through glass windows, high-rise fall injuries due to jumping from balconies, car impact trauma from attempting to flee from large crowds, dietary indiscretions from stealing scraps from the grill, and cases of severe anxiety due to overwhelming stimulation. 

In addition to the trauma that I see, I also receive many phone calls from distressed pet parents trying to locate their lost dog or cat after they’ve run away from home in a panicked state. Fear not; just follow these nine tips to keep tabs on your pet this Memorial Day weekend so the only thing you have to worry about is not burning the burgers.

1. Keep your pet safe and secure (read: inside).

While fireworks are more often associated with the Fourth of July, many Memorial Day parades and celebrations include them as well. If you live out of earshot of major firework presentations, don’t forget that even small neighborhood displays can be just as distressing to your pets. Make sure your pets are secured indoors and as far away from the noise as possible. If your dog is crate trained, put them in their crate and cover it with a blanket for an added feeling of security. You can also help block the sights and sounds outside simply by lowering the blinds and turning on the TV. Don’t forget that a fenced-in pet will still look for a way to escape the yard during times of extreme stress. And if you plan to go to a friend’s home for the festivities, leave your pet at home.

2. Ensure your pet is microchipped (and registered).

Be sure that your pet can be identified in case they do escape. If you don’t already have a name tag for your dog, most local pet supply stores can make one on the spot. Microchipping your pet is the best way to help missing animals find their way back home — in fact they are four times as likely to! That said, it’s not uncommon for animals to go missing that have been microchipped but are not registered with one of the national microchip registries. So before the weekend rolls around, double check that your pet is microchipped, registered, and that your contact info (address, phone number) is current. And remember, a microchip is not a GPS device — it only works if someone finds your lost pet and takes them to a vet or shelter to be scanned.

3. Avert anxiety-induced behaviors.

Pets often try to relieve anxiety by chewing, so make sure confined pets do not have access to anything that they could choke or otherwise injure themselves on. Crating can curb that to a certain degree, but dogs should never be crated for more than four hours, and you should still keep a watchful eye on dogs with destructive tendencies. I have seen injuries as mild as broken toenails from trying to “dig out” from their crates to more extreme cases of mouth trauma and fractured teeth from biting the bars to escape. So don’t try crating a dog for the first time on Memorial Day — it will only add to their distress. Instead, distract your dog with an interactive puzzle toy or frozen Kong.

4. Beware of BBQ dangers.

No matter how well they work those pleading puppy-dog eyes, do not feed your dog scraps from the grill (and keep garbage bags out of reach afterwards). In addition to toxic foods, Memorial Day menu favorites like chicken bones and corn cobs are choking hazards. Even other seemingly innocuous snacks can lead to pancreatitis, gastroenteritis, and intestinal obstructions that may require emergency surgery. And please do not give your dog beer — hops can cause hyperthermia, vomiting, abnormal clotting, coma, even death.

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5. Prioritize pool safety.

No matter how proficient your dog’s doggy paddle, it’s safest to avoid swimming this weekend. Every body of water has its unique risks, from blue-green algae in lakes to strong currents in the ocean. But there are also hidden hazards in your own backyard pool such as water intoxication, aka dry drowning. If your pet wants to take a dip to cool off and you’re able to keep an eye on them, consider a life jacket or other flotation devices for dogs for added peace of mind. While chlorinated pool water is relatively safe to swallow in small amounts, chlorine tablets in their concentrated form are poisonous.

6. Stay cool and avoid heatstroke.

With temps on the rise and summer around the corner, heatstroke is a very real risk for pets. Make sure your dog has access to shade and cold water, don’t leave them outside for an extended period of time, and watch out for symptoms of heatstroke including excessive panting or drooling, a bright red or purple tongue, or increased heart rate. Brachycephalic dogs like Bulldogs and Pugs are especially at risk because their short snouts make panting (a dog’s natural cooling mechanism) extra challenging. They often exhibit additional signs of overheating like wobbling or vomiting. If any of these symptoms appear, move them to an air-conditioned environment and cover them with a wet towel ASAP. If they don’t cool down and stop panting, take them to an ER vet as heatstroke (again, particularly in certain breeds) can be fatal.

7. Hold the bug spray.

Avoid spraying your pet with insect repellant and only use sunscreen that is intended for animal use as human products can be toxic to them. Exposure to bug spray that contains DEET can lead to neurological problems. Ingestion of sunscreen products can result in drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst, and lethargy. Citronella candles, insect coils, and oil-based insect repellents can also cause stomach irritation and possibly central nervous system depression. So what can you use to ward off mosquitos? Look for pet-safe, all-natural mosquito repellants like those made by Wondercide.

8. Keep matches and lighter fluid out of reach.

This should be obvious but you’d be surprised! Lighter fluid can be irritating to the skin; if ingested, can produce irritation of the stomach and intestines; and can cause aspiration pneumonia if it is inhaled. And certain types of matches contain chlorates that can damage blood cells and result in difficulty breathing or kidney disease in severe cases. So after firing up the grill, put everything away.

9. Consider calming aids to help them chill.

Some pets respond well to situational sedatives as needed, such as Acepromazine. If you already know your pet gets anxious in these situations, make an appointment with your veterinarian ahead of time to have your pet examined and a sedative dispensed (or, if your pet has had a vet visit in the past year and is otherwise healthy, they will often go ahead and dispense this medication for you). There are also herbal over-the-counter remedies for pets afraid of fireworks such as Feliway (cats) and Trazodone (dogs), which can offer homeopathic relaxing effects to your pets. Thundershirts can also be very helpful for some dogs at reducing anxiety caused by the noise of fireworks.

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Dr. Shea Cox, DVM, CVPP, CHPV

Dr. Shea Cox is the founder of BluePearl Pet Hospice and is a global leader in animal hospice and palliative care. With a focus on technology, innovation and education, her efforts are changing the end-of-life landscape in veterinary medicine.