Firework season can often be a distressing and traumatic time for pets, they can experience extreme fear due to the loud noises and bright lights generated by fireworks.
by the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA)
Fear of fireworks is very common among pets but fear in pets may not be recognisable to owners. Considering firework-related fear is a significant welfare issue in terms of the number of individual animals affected and the duration of the effects, it is essential owners understand how fireworks are perceived by their pets. Aside from the immediate effects, some pets may take some time to recover; research has shown some dogs can take up to several weeks or even months to recover. Research estimates vary depending on study method but up to 63% of dogs and 56% of cats being afraid of fireworks has been reported. Fear in pets may be underestimated by owners without knowing what signs to look for.
Research using data collated by the Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network (SAVSNET), a BSAVA initiative, revealed only a small number of veterinary consultations related to the effects of fireworks around the 5th of November. This highlights the need to raise awareness of prevention and treatment of noise-related fear in pets and for owners to ask their vet for advice where needed.
This article from the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) provides an overview of the response of our pets to fireworks and options to help owners reduce their pet’s discomfort and stress.
DOGS AND CATS
Obvious signs of fear and stress in dogs may include drooling, trembling, whining, barking, cowering, urination or defecation, even self-injury. They may be too scared to go outside to toilet as they normally would. Some dogs, however, may not show such obvious signs. Cats may be more likely to hide, or express passivity, which owners may misinterpret as a lack of fear, especially if the cat is seen to engage in increased grooming.
Fear or phobias can develop at any stage in an animal’s life; to prevent more complicated issues developing, it is essential to take preventative action while an animal is young. If an animal has already developed an existing fear, it is advisable to seek advice well before firework season begins. Although cats and dogs have received more attention in terms of the effects of fireworks, other companion species are also affected.
RABBITS AND GUINEA PIGS
Research suggests that rabbit and guinea pig owners can underestimate fear in their pets. People do not perceive threats in the way that small mammals would but instead perceive the world from their own human perspective. Essentially, human-dominated environments can be overwhelming for some other species’ senses. Even short-duration noise, familiar to us, may impact small mammals due to hearing sensitivity. Being aware and getting to know your pets’ behaviours and responses to changes around them, including sounds, will help you identify what is uncomfortable for them.
There is limited research available, but one survey found that 39% of rabbit owners and 41% of guinea pig owners considered their pets scared of fireworks. Another study reported 63% of small mammals (including rabbits and guinea pigs) to be frightened of fireworks. However, few guinea pig or rabbit owners consult a vet before or after fireworks.
Signs of fear in rabbits may include back leg thumping, hiding and shaking or shivering; likewise, guinea pigs may hide, shake or shiver. You may also notice wide eyes, rapid breathing, freezing, vocalisation, sudden digging and other behaviour you consider unusual.
Although research is needed to understand better the behavioural indicators of fear in rabbits and guinea pigs, and to determine the best ways to help these species, preventative action can be taken by owners to help reduce the effect of fireworks on these pets.
WHAT OWNERS CAN DO TO HELP
Many owners do not always recognise signs of fear in their pets. However, if you assume your pet will be affected by fireworks, then you can put in place some preventative measures before the firework season begins. Find out when local firework displays are happening so you can plan ahead. If at all possible, it is best not to leave your pet alone during this period. Have a look at our website for general advice about fireworks and pets – www.bsava.com/position-statement/fireworks/
SPECIFIC CONSIDERATIONS FOR CATS AND DOGS
- Dogs and cats will be much safer if they are kept inside during displays; dogs should be taken out to exercise and toilet before it becomes dark.
- Create a safe space: make sure all doors and windows are closed and curtains drawn. You can make a cosy den for your cats or dogs in a quiet, dark corner or under a table, using their favourite bedding, they like to squeeze into a small space. Cats need to be able to get to an established, small, high position.
- Litter trays should be provided in the room where your cat’s ‘safe place’ is located.
- Provide background noise: turning on the TV or radio will help to drown out some of the noise to keep your pet more settled.
- Make sure all pets have identification: If your dog or cat accidentally escapes and runs away in panic it’s important that they have easily readable identification – such as a microchip – so that they can be reunited with you as quickly and easily as possible.
- Be your pet’s friend: give your pet reassurance if they seek it, remaining calm. Keep your routine as normal as possible. Praise calm or relaxed behaviour but don’t admonish your pet for anxious behaviour – no matter how irritating a pet’s behaviour may be, never use punishment
- If you suspect that your pet has ingested a firework or been exposed to emissions or burns, seek help from your vet, intoxication and internal obstruction are serious.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR RABBITS AND GUINEA PIGS:
- Provide more shelter/insulation such as extra bedding for burrowing and blankets for partial cover of outdoor accommodation, ensuring there is still adequate ventilation.
- You may have a shed or considered bringing your rabbits or guinea pigs into the house during this time. Arrange to speak to your vet for advice about this as moving your pets into a new area may cause issues related to stress due to being in new surroundings and a change in environmental temperature.
- Drawing curtains and closing windows may help those indoors.
- Providing areas of refuge within their accommodation is an essential welfare requirement at any time – not just during the fireworks season.
- Rabbits and guinea pigs are sociable animals; companionship of their own species provides security. If your rabbits/guinea pigs live alone, speak to an animal welfare organisation with expertise in finding them companions – again, as above this is a general lifetime requirement, not just relevant to firework season. See our advice and joint policy position on rabbit companionship www.bsava.com/article/ittakestwo-companionship-in-rabbits-is-key-to-their-welfare-says-vets/
Well before firework season starts, even if you are not aware of previous firework-related fear in your pets, speak to your vet about potential signs and prevention. In some circumstances your vet may consider prescribing supportive medication or other non-medicinal options such as a behavioural modification plan. Such a plan could include a noise desensitising programme which could be started several months in advance either with support from your vet or an appropriately qualified veterinary behaviourist.
Although few owners seek advice on fireworks, by seeking veterinary advice on how fireworks can affect your pets, you as owners will better understand your pets, positively impact your relationship with them and improve their welfare.
The purpose of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association is to drive excellence in veterinary practice to improve the health and welfare of small animals.
For more information visit www.bsava.com