Cape Town, 02 November 2023 – Global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS caution pet owners ahead of the annual firework festivities Guy Fawkes Day on 05 November and Diwali 12 November. The annual celebrations have become increasingly evident that reckless individuals are using both ‘events’ to utilise fireworks in a particularly anti-social manner. This includes ignoring any restrictions and causing damage to property, as well as terrifying communities and animals.
“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.” says Fiona Miles, FOUR PAWS director South Africa.
Society should consider how animals perceive noises and lights, it’s easy to understand why many of them fear fireworks. Sounds are simply much louder for dogs and cats than they are to us humans. The average dog’s hearing is four times more acute than a human, and cats even more noise-sensitive than dogs. Animals struggle to make sense of firework noises as they are not only extremely loud but also unpredictable. Pets associate such noises with danger, and all their instincts tell them to run to a place of safety. For 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 Guy Fawkes Day and Diwali including New Year’s Eve can reinforce an animal’s adverse reaction to noise over time. Studies have shown that even young dogs can develop a fear of fireworks.
- Help your pet 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 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.
The fear of fireworks is a serious animal welfare issue and exposes 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 visit our website www.four-paws.org.za
FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org.za