Fireworks season sparks vet calls for pet safety

10 October 2019

With the fireworks season fast approaching, vets are encouraging pet owners and animal keepers to start preparing now to prevent possible injury and distress to their pets and livestock during traditional dates such as Bonfire Night, Diwali or New Year’s Eve.

At up to 150 decibels, fireworks can be as loud as a jet engine and, with many animals particularly sensitive to noise, this can be a traumatic and upsetting time of the year for them.

Around 1 in 14 vets across the country reported seeing animals with firework-related injuries over 2018, in our Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey last December. Equine vets were significantly more likely to report such cases, with almost one in(19%) seeing firework injuries last year. By far the most commonly reported cases were self injuries caused by fireworks-related anxiety: for example, a dog who tried to escape from its kennel and in the process pulled out all of its front teeth, including the canines, and a horse that suffered a fractured splint bone as it bolted from its field.

We are encouraging pet owners and livestock keepers to consult with their vet as far in advance as possible to discuss management and treatment options if their animals get severely distressed by fireworks or other noises. A phobia of fireworks can be effectively treated with appropriate behaviour-modification techniques, which can achieve long-term success with professional input and owner commitment and patience.

BVA President Daniella Dos Santos said:

“Fireworks season can be a fun time for many people, but the loud noises and bright flashes can be extremely traumatic for many animals, who have no way of understanding what is happening.

"Preparing ahead is key to keeping pets and livestock calm and safe, from discussing noise desensitisation techniques with your vet and preparing a ‘safe place’ for pets, to microchipping and investing in pheromone products.

“Even if you don’t expect your pet to be anxious please consider staying close at hand on the noisiest evenings, providing background noise when fireworks are going off and, most importantly, staying calm yourself so your animal is reassured.

“If your pet gets significantly distressed by fireworks, we’d encourage you to speak to your local vet as early as possible to discuss treatment options, which can achieve long-term success with professional input and owner commitment and patience.”

Top tips to keep animals safe:

  • If your pet gets distressed by fireworks or other noises, contact your local vet to discuss treatment options. This may include drugs to help dogs with noise phobias or pheromone products to apply next to your pets’ den and around the house to keep them calm.
  • Create a well-padded den for your pet to access ahead of fireworks season so they have a safe place to hide when fireworks start.
  • Ensure your pet is microchipped and your details are up to date on the database, in case it runs away from home.
  • Move small pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs to a quiet place indoors.
  • Close windows and curtains and provide background noise to help mask the fireworks.
  • If your pet is distressed, remain calm yourself – trying to reassure your pet can inadvertently reinforce anxious behaviour. Restlessness or toileting in the house can be signs of stress, so don’t punish them.
  • Keep livestock housed at times when fireworks are likely to be set off locally and remove any firework debris from grazing pasture before letting them out.
  • Horses may be better turned out in a field than stabled, as in a stable they may feel enclosed and unable to move. Owners should consult a qualified equine behaviourist if they have significant concerns about their horse’s response to fireworks.
  • If you’re hosting a fireworks display, avoid setting them off near horses, livestock or companion animals. Dispose of any debris and remnants of fireworks responsibly.
  • Before lighting a bonfire, remember to check for any wild animals that may be hiding in it.

Signs of distress

Signs of fireworks-related distress can vary from animal to animal. While some pets show obvious signs of fireworks-related anxiety, such as panting, drooling and attempts to escape, there are also more subtle signs that owners should be aware of, including restlessness and toileting in the house. Cats often hide, while rabbits may keep very still and thump the ground with their back feet. 

Livestock who are startled by the loud noises from fireworks are at risk of injuring themselves on fencing, farm equipment or fixtures and fittings within their housing. Poultry are especially at risk of ‘smother’, where in a fear response birds huddle together, which can result in death for some. Horses are prey animals and so exhibit ‘flight’ responses in response to any threat, which can result in running away or trying to escape their enclosures. 

Updated fireworks policy

As part of our updated fireworks policy, we are supporting calls for a reduction in the maximum permitted noise of fireworks to 97 decibels – roughly equal to the noise made by a power lawn mower - as well as further restrictions on the use and sale of fireworks, clear labelling, and a duty of care on users to properly dispose of debris and remnants of fireworks.

Related BVA policy

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