The British Veterinary Association (BVA) is urging pet owners and livestock keepers who are worried about their animals’ welfare to “take steps now to avoid possible injury and distress during traditional fireworks dates” such as Bonfire Night, Halloween, Diwali and New Year’s Eve.
Vets are especially concerned that, with official displays limited by Covid-19 restrictions, there may be an increase in unregulated backyard fireworks.
BVA Senior Vice President Daniella Dos Santos said, “The loud noises and bright flashes from fireworks can be extremely traumatic for animals, from dogs, cats and rabbits to livestock, horses, wildlife and zoo animals. While Covid-19 restrictions may lead to the cancellation of official displays, we are worried about a rise in the number of backyard celebrations.
“We’d encourage pet owners and livestock keepers to consult with their vet as far in advance as possible to discuss management and treatment options, which may include noise desensitisation techniques, applying pheromone products around the house, and preparing a ‘safe place’ for animals.
“With professional input and owner commitment and patience, a phobia of fireworks can be effectively treated with appropriate behaviour-modification techniques. In more severe cases, vets may also prescribe medications to help pets struggling with fireworks distress.
“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.”
In a survey conducted by BVA in 2018, “around one in 14 vets across the country reported seeing animals with firework-related injuries over the previous year”.
“By far the most commonly reported cases were self-injuries caused by firework-related anxiety, such as fractures in horses that had bolted from their fields or tooth injuries to dogs from chewing furniture,” BVA added.
“Signs of firework-related distress can vary from animal to animal. While some pets show obvious signs of firework-related anxiety, such as barking, 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.”
BVA has issued the following tips to keep animals safe during fireworks season
- 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.
BVA “continues to support calls for a reduction in the maximum permitted noise of fireworks” 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“.