Fireworks: No Celebration for Pets

The end of the year is usually packed with festivities and parties – from Diwali to Halloween, Guy Fawkes and New Year – and that usually goes hand-in-hand with fireworks. Although fireworks have recently been banned by the City of Cape Town, people might still take chances and set off a flare or two in a neighbourhood, terrifying pets in the process.

“It is natural for especially dogs to run away from loud noises,” says Dr Omar Mehtar of TAH Somerset West. “Some dogs are afraid of loud noises. The sounds trigger their nervous systems, and they can become anxious or afraid. Running away from the noise is a survival instinct,” he explains.

“Compared to thunder, fireworks are closer to the ground, more vibrant, and are accompanied by sudden booms, flashes and burning smells. Dogs experience the world through their senses, which might be overwhelming to them,” he adds.
Pets are not only afraid of fireworks but also the loudness which is associated with fireworks. Dogs have a more acute sense of hearing (up to 7 times louder than humans), so any loud booms, crackles and whistles are alarming to them. Fireworks are also unpredictable, look different each time, coming and going the whole time. The noise and unpredictability might cause dogs to view fireworks as a possible threat, which might lead to signs of anxiety (like restlessness, panting, pacing and whining) or your dog running away from the threat.

“Besides possible problems like heart attacks during fireworks, it is especially pets’ fear-laden frantic jolt to get away from the fireworks, which can result in them being exposed to even more danger, like running in front of a car, injuring themselves severely in an attempt to get away from fireworks of getting lost and ending up in the ‘wrong hands’,” stresses Dr Mehtar.

He advises pet owners to always take precautions during fireworks displays:

TIPS FOR MANAGING YOUR PET DURING FIREWORKS

  • As a precautionary measure, microchip your dog so that you can be reunited if your pet might escape. Make sure your microchip details are up to date.
  • Besides a microchip, make sure your pet is wearing proper identification on him/her, like a collar and tag with contact details.
  • Plan ahead. Depending on the medication, your vet would need to do a health check on your animals before giving medication to calm your dog down. Some medication also needs time to kick in – sometimes up to 2 weeks!
  • You might also want to speak to your vet about natural products that are available for dogs and cats. These often come with an adjustment period, so they should be trialled well before fireworks are being deployed.
  • Take your dog for a long walk before the fireworks to make sure your dog is calm and tired.
  • Keep your dog in a place where there will not be loud firework displays, even if it means you have to take him or her to friends or family that will look after your dog.
  • Make sure your pet cannot escape from your yard.
  • Keep your dog inside during the fireworks. This will prevent him or her from running away.
  • If possible, stay with your dog, during the fireworks and continuously talk calmly to your pet.
  • Create a safe spot for your pet, with his or her favourite toys, a blanket, etc. This could be in a bathroom or underneath a bed – wherever your pet feels safe.
  • Do not limit your dog to just one room. Due to the pet being anxious, it might move from one room to another. Let them move freely and do not let them feel trapped.
  • Close your curtains, to prevent your pet seeing the flashes of light.
  • Give your dog something to chew on, to draw attention away from the noise.
  • Switch on a television or play calming music, to draw the dog’s attention away from the fireworks.
  • Some dogs can be trained to be de-sensitised to loud sounds. Gun dogs, for instance, go through a whole process before they are actually trained for the purpose of hunting. Police dogs are another example. But it is often a case that the dog chooses the career, rather than ‘simply training them’ and many dogs are unsuitable to either.
  • Thunder shirts are also another product that can be used in some dogs and cats. The idea is the shirt ‘hugs’ the animal and the animal feels safer and calmer. It does seem to work fairly well for most dogs, but once again, please try this well in advance.

“Although I can see the appeal of fireworks, the havoc they cause to the pet world, wild birds and other animals is just appalling and I’m very happy that more and more governments are banning them,” says Dr Mehtar.

“Fireworks can produce such a strong ‘fright or flight’ response from the dogs that I have seen dogs brought in, covered in cuts because they tried to escape by smashing through a glass pane door or window. Please think about the animals in your care: do they need extra protection during this time period? What have you tried? (Try the natural, over the counter products first and gauge if there is any response). If you are still concerned, take your dog or cat to the vet, get them microchipped (VERY NB) and have a full health check done and speak to the vet about possible stronger meds and what would be suitable for your pet,” he concludes.

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