Global animal welfare organisation Four Paws has called on pet owners to take care of their furkids as we approach Guy Fawkes Day, on Sunday November 5 and Diwali on Sunday November 12.
The annual celebrations have become synonymous with fireworks, which some people use recklessly, ignoring restrictions relating to where and when they can be discharged.
“The fear of fireworks is common among pets and poses a significant animal welfare problem,” says Fiona Miles, Four Paws director South Africa.
“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.”
Ms Miles explains that sounds are much louder for dogs and cats than they are to humans, with the average dog’s hearing being four times more acute than that of a human, and cats being 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, she adds, 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. 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.
- Helping 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 three and 12 weeks, while for cats it is between two and seven 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.
According to Four Paws, 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 some end up being run over. . .
For more information on what you can do to help your pet cope with fireworks visit our website www.four-paws.org.za