4th of July Warnings and Dangers

By Jessica Driscoll, CVT
Senior Veterinary Information Specialist

Today we kick off the beginning of our Fourth of July Dangers Series.  Please take note of these items that can be dangerous to pets and have a safe and enjoyable holiday!


FireworksFireworks are dangerous to pets in several ways. First, the loud noise of fireworks can result in severe stress, fear, and anxiety. 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.

Secondly, when unused fireworks are ingested, they are poisonous to pets. Fireworks contain hazardous chemicals such as potassium nitrate, which is an oxidizing agent. They can also contain charcoal or sulfur and coloring agents, which are potentially dangerous heavy metals. When ingested, pets can develop gastrointestinal issues like vomiting, a painful abdomen, and bloody diarrhea.

The severity of pet health issues resulting from ingestion will depend on the type of fireworks and the amount that was ingested. Pets ingesting large amounts can suffer tremors or seizures, along with acute kidney failure, bone marrow changes, shallow breathing and jaundice (jaundice can occur when the liver cannot handle the blood cells as they break down, bilirubin builds up in the body and the skin may look yellow).

Also, exposure to lit fireworks can result in burns to the nose, face, lips, or inside of the mouth, as well as eye irritation and conjunctivitis. When in doubt, never let pets near fireworks – unlit or lit!

Xanax (alprazolam)

Xanax is in a class of drugs called benzodiazepines which is a class of drugs used in both human and veterinary medicine as sedatives/hypnotics. They are also used as anti-anxiety medications, anti-convulsants (e.g., anti-seizure drugs), and as muscle relaxants. These drugs work by increasing the release of and/or facilitation of neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) activity.

When dogs and cats get into a toxic amount of benzodiazepines, clinical signs of severe sedation, incoordination, aggression, agitation, nausea, and vomiting may be seen. In severe cases, respiratory and cardiovascular depression may be seen.

Please do NOT give your pet medication unless specifically directed by a veterinarian. Make sure to follow the exact doing recommendations provided by your pet’s veterinarian and as always, keep all medications out of reach to avoid animals chewing into the bottles.


Moment before the feast

Outdoor barbecues are an 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 pancreatitis (which can potentially be fatal); certain dog breeds are more prone to developing pancreatitis such as Miniature Schnauzers, Yorkshire Terriers and Shetland Sheepdogs.

Corn-on-the-cob is also not toxic, but can form a severe foreign body in the dog’s intestines. With corn cob ingestion, an expensive intestinal surgery may be necessary to remove the foreign mass.

Other picnic dangers include desserts made with xylitol, a natural sugar-free sweetener that with ingestion can result in an acute drop in blood sugar and even liver failure at high doses. Additionally, foods containing grapes or raisins can also be harmful to pets.  Grapes and raisins can result in severe, fatal acute kidney failure.

So for safety purposes, it is best not to share your BBQ and picnic creations with your pets, and make sure your guests know too! You can posts signs around the home and entertainment area as reminders or make arrangements for your pet to be kept away from the entertainment area.

Pool/Hot Tub Supplies

Many people like to have pool-side picnics and gatherings during the summer and especially around the 4th of July. It is best, no matter what time of year, to keep all of the pool/hot tub shock, cleaning and other supplies out of your pets reach.

Many of these shock and cleaning supplies are corrosive or caustic when ingested from directly the packaging. Corrosive or caustic products can cause chemical burns when ingested or when accidentally exposed to the fur and skin. If your dog or cat is accidentally exposed to these chemicals, it requires immediate first aid care at home and a visit to your veterinarian right away. Clinical signs of corrosive or caustic injury include:

  • Red, raw skin
  • Blistering of the skin
  • Pain
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Severe drooling
  • Not eating
  • Fever
  • Pawing at the eyes
  • Tearing of the eyes
  • Lethargy or malaise

Untreated, it can result in severe tissue damage (like rupturing the esophagus or stomach!) or even death.

For information on first aid measures to take if your pet is exposed to a corrosive or caustic substance, read here!

So, what do you do if your dog or cat accidentally is exposed to a corrosive or caustic substance?

  • First, safely get your pet to a safe area (to prevent them from ingesting more!).
  • Carefully gather the container or substance to bring to the veterinary hospital or to describe to the veterinarian (protect yourself by using gloves).
  • Contact your veterinarian for further immediate recommendations.
  • If the product was ingested or chewed on, flush your pet’s mouth out with tap water, making sure that they don’t choke on it or inhale it. You can use a turkey baster or even a kitchen sink hose; however, never stick the house down your pet’s throat or mouth, as they can choke on this. Make sure your dog’s nose is pointed down towards the ground to prevent excess water from being swallowed or inhaled.
  • Attempt to flush for 10-15 minutes.
  • If your cat was affected, offer something tasty like canned tuna water or chicken broth to help flush out the mouth.
  • Once you begin these steps, seek immediate veterinary attention.

If there was dermal exposure of a corrosive or caustic substance (e.g., onto the skin or fur):

  • Liberally flush the affected area with water, using protective gloves or gear to keep you safe.
  • Safely gather the container or substance to bring to the veterinary hospital or to describe to the veterinarian.
  • Seek immediate veterinary attention.

When in doubt, keep these dangerous cleaning chemicals out of reach of your pets (and kids!). Use childproof locks and make sure to lock your pets OUT of the area when you are cleaning.

Garbage and Compost Post Holiday

While we applaud you for composting, make sure to do so appropriately – your compost shouldn’t contain any dairy or meat products, and should always be fenced off for the sake of your pets and wildlife. Garbage bins, both inside and outside, should also be made pet/wildlife-proof or be kept in areas where animals will not have access.

These piles of decomposing and decaying organic matter and molding food products have the potential to contain tremorgenic mycotoxins, which are toxic to both pets and wildlife. Clinical signs include agitation, hyperthermia, hyper-responsiveness, panting, drooling, and vomiting, and can progress to serious neurologic signs (including incoordination, tremors, and seizures). Even small amounts ingested can result in clinical signs within 30 minutes to several hours. Prompt decontamination and treatment is necessary!