The fear of fireworks is common among pets and poses a significant animal welfare problem. When fireworks go off, some animals will panic and try to escape from the terrifying noises and lights. Often they will take a long time to recover.
Where does the fear of fireworks come from?
If we consider how animals perceive noises and lights, it’s easy to understand why many of them are scared of fireworks.
- Sounds are simply much louder to dogs and cats than they are to us humans. The average dog’s hearing is four times more acute than a human’s, and cats can be even more noise-sensitive than dogs.
- Animals struggle to make sense of firework noises as they are not only extremely loud but also unpredictable. They associate such noises with danger, and all their instincts tell them to run to a place of safety.
- And to animals, the flashes of light produced by fireworks seem just as threatening as the noises.
- The overall effect is comparable to the thunderclaps and lightning of thunderstorms, which often provoke a fear response in animals (astraphobia).
- Fireworks are closer to the ground than thunderstorms, so the impact can be even more overwhelming. What’s more, the lights and noises are accompanied by acrid smells.
Sometimes just one negative experience of fireworks can be enough to trigger noise phobia in a pet. Periods when fireworks go off repeatedly (usually during festivities such as New Year’s Eve) can reinforce an animal’s adverse reaction to noise over time. Studies show that even young dogs can develop a fear of fireworks.
- Helping your pet to become well-socialised can play a major role in preventing the fear of fireworks from becoming ingrained. A pet’s breed, age and sex can also have a significant impact on their sensitivity to fireworks, as can the circumstances in which they were reared and whether or not they have been neutered.
- For animals to be well-socialised, they must have as many positive experiences as possible during the most sensitive phase of their development (for dogs this is between the ages of 3 and 12 weeks, while for cats it is between 2 and 7 weeks). Well-socialised animals can cope much better with unfamiliar situations later in life than animals that have had little or no positive experiences during their sensitive phase.
- You might consider giving your pet a socialisation session to reduce their fear of fireworks. This might include playing your pet a sound recording of fireworks while offering them positive and reassuring rewards (cuddles, treats, etc.). Observe your pet closely throughout the session and stop if you see signs of stress.
Fear of fireworks is a serious animal welfare issue
Fireworks expose animals – not just pets, but also wild animals and livestock – to immense stress, which in extreme cases can prove fatal. Many dogs run away when startled by fireworks, and tragically some end up being run over. Anxiety, fears and phobias have far-reaching consequences. You should do as much as you can to make the situation easier for your pet. For more information on what you can do to help your pet cope with fireworks, take a look at our guide New Year's Eve: Minimising Your Pet's Stress