Animal Welfare

Owner perceptions and management of fear of fireworks in their pets

Fireworks are known to be frightening for animals due to their unpredictable nature and loud noise. Exposure to fireworks can be stressful, and can elicit behavioural responses that range from mild vocalising and trembling through to extreme panic and escape behaviour. A previous 2006 survey of fireworks-related behavioural problems in New Zealand found that 46% of surveyed pets displayed signs of fear during fireworks displays, and 6% had received a physical injury while trying to escape. Despite the range in fear responses shown, only 16% of respondents had sought professional help for their pets. This study repeated the 2006 survey to provide up-to-date information relating to fear of fireworks in companion animals to veterinarians, researchers and policy-makers.

An online survey was distributed through the Facebook pages of various animal health and welfare organisations in New Zealand to recruit pet owners. The survey period included the annual Guy Fawkes celebrations, when fireworks were legally available for purchase and use in New Zealand. A total of 4293 pet owners completed valid responses, representing a total of 15,647 companion animals. The survey collected demographic information about the owners and their animals, as well as the behavioural response of the animals toward fireworks and the strategies that owners used to manage these behaviours.

Over half of the companion animals surveyed exhibited fear behaviour during fireworks displays (63% of dogs and 56% of cats). The most commonly observed fear behaviours were hiding, shivering and cowering. Escape behaviour was commonly reported in free-roaming animals such as cats and horses. The most common management techniques used by pet owners was to confine their animals, and to provide comforting support for the animal. The majority of owners (70%) did not seek help for managing firework-induced behaviours, although those with extremely scared pets or pets that had previously injured themselves during a fireworks display were more likely to seek help. The findings of this study suggest that fireworks are a welfare concern for many owners and their pets across New Zealand.

Gates MC et al (in press) Owner perceptions and management of the adverse behavioural effects of fireworks on companion animals: an update. New Zealand Veterinary Journal. doi:10.1080/00480169.2019.1638845.

Source: RSPCA Science Update October