ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. — While Americans enjoy their barbecue and firework shows this 4th of July weekend, their furry friends may not be having as much fun.
Loud firework noises, foot traffic in and out of the house and new smells can stress pets out and cause them to try to escape their surroundings.
More pets run away on 4th of July weekend than any other weekend throughout the year — especially dogs, but even cats or birds. Animal control officials around the country experience a 30-60% increase in lost pets between July 4 and July 6, according to Pet Amber Alert, a missing animal emergency response system.
Both Danyelle Ho, Humane Society of Tampa Bay shelter director, and Chelsea Waldeck, Hillsborough Pet Resource Center senior supervisor of volunteer services, report that there's an influx of animals being brought into their shelters during the 4th of July.
This can be detrimental as most shelters throughout the Tampa Bay area are at or over capacity, Ho said. Not only are they at capacity at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, but they're also experiencing a large number of animals coming to the shelter amid kitten season.
At the Hillsborough Pet Resource Center shelter, they're at about 190% capacity, and will be waving adoption fees throughout August and heavily encouraging fostering to combat the influx of pets.
It's important that people hold onto their pets this 4th of July weekend so they don't end up in overcrowded shelters.
So why is 4th of July such a risk for pets?
The change in routine and new sensations can be stressful for pets. For many animals, their fight or flight instinct kicks in when loud, unfamiliar noises occur from firework displays.
"The pets think they're going to die, and they're terrified so they run away," Dr. Melissa Webster from Tampa Veterinary Hospital said.
Along with running away from fear, fireworks can cause physical health problems as well.
If ingested, firework material and chemicals can cause gastrointestinal distress, red blood cell dysfunction and muscle and nerve dysfunction, according to the ASPCA.
Dr. Webster said the stress can cause health problems like vomiting and diarrhea also.
"I'm seeing a Great Dane today for bloody diarrhea because in their neighborhood, they've already started fireworks," she said. "The dog is just freaking out."
She's also seen injured animals who get too close to fireworks.
"Our pets are kind of like a perpetual 2-to-5 year old child — interested in what we're doing but not necessarily aware of the danger of what's going on," Dr. Webster said.
What can pet owners do to decrease stress in pets?
The best thing owners can do is make sure their animal is microchipped and that their registration is up to date.
"It's very very very important to have your pets microchipped because if they do end up in a shelter or in a vet clinic because they've been found, we can scan them, find the microchip information... and reach out to you," Ho said.
Animal control officers can even scan the animals' information out in the field and return them to owners without having to go to the Pet Resource Center, Waldeck said.
Animals should also be wearing identification on their collars with names, phone numbers and rabies certificate tags, she said.
There are also ways to put your pets more at ease when loud firework displays are happening.
Playing other noises like calming music or television shows can help drown out loud sounds. Ho, Waldeck and Dr. Webster recommend thunder jackets to make animals feel comforted.
"They feel like they have a hug basically," Ho said.
Sedation and calming medicines are another option.
At Tampa Veterinary Hospital, Dr. Webster, said she tends to fill more medications for sedation around 4th of July.
Holistic remedies exist also. They use properties like the ones in mother's milk or turkey, that help relax animals.
Ho recommends calming treats with CBD or hemp oil that can be purchased at many shops. Lavender essential oils can also be placed on blankets, beds or thunder jackets for an extra calming effect.
"If you feel like your pet has an extreme case of anxiety then I would definitely reach out to your veterinarian to see if there's any kind of medication to help," Ho said.
Lastly, owners should avoid bringing their pets to firework displays. If pets must be out of the house during firework shows, make sure they're on a leash with a tight collar, Dr. Webster said.
What should pet owners do if their pet gets out?
If a pet gets out of the house this weekend, the first thing owners can do is check neighborhood watches and Facebook groups like Lost and Found Pets of Hillsborough County.
"A lot of times the community will immediately post things there if they have found them," Waldeck said.
Owners should make their own posts if their pet hasn't been posted about already.
Check county and nonprofit animal shelters in the area as well.
The Hillsborough Pet Rescue Center has a website they update regularly with new animals that arrive at the shelter. If owners think they see their pet, they can call and set up a time to go to the shelter to confirm and pick up.
Microchips will make the search process a lot easier.
"Thankfully, most of the time the animals are reunited with their families," Ho said.