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Tips and Treatments for Anxious Dogs Terrified of Fireworks

Anxious and Scared Dog due to Fireworks

We’re officially in the fourth and final quarter of 2020, firmly in Fireworks season! While this may be festive for us, it’s terrifying for animals.

And if you weren’t aware, tomorrow is Guy Fawkes. While not a massive event in South Africa, the lockdown and restrictions on movement and socialising brought on from Covid-19, has led to even stranger behaviour from humans!

Whatever the event where fireworks are used, fireworks are terrifying to animals and it could be fatal. Many dogs and cats flee in fear from their deafening blasts. Animals become confused and panicked, and shelters see a spike in the number of admissions after fireworks displays.

The animal’s extreme anxiety is often the cause of injury while trying to escape their kennels or paddocks. Although these are just some of the results of fireworks for animals, many animals suffer far worse fates every year.

The Society for Animals in Distress is calling on the local community to be considerate to animals during Guy Fawkes Day on 5 November, drawing the public’s attention to the plight of animals in their veterinary hospital in response to the igniting of fireworks.

The Law and Fireworks

The society further implores the public to apply for municipal permission for firework displays although these might be curtailed this year due to large gatherings. It’s important to know your rights when it comes to do’s and don’ts with fireworks. Although we’re living in diverse communities and fireworks is not a new phenomenon, its still amazing that we go through this each year.

Fireworks obviously can be dangerous if not handled well to humans, but for animals not accustomed or specifically trained

We also live in a country that promotes equal rights entrenched by our constitution, so it’s important to recognise, respect and appreciate there are going to be times that other groups of the community will do things that we won’t like or appreciate.

With this in mind there are municipal by-laws which we all needs to be adhered. It’s important to note that should any valuable animals be injured as a result of fireworks, offenders will be held personally responsible and civil action can be taken.

According to the City of Johannesburg’s emergency services by-laws, fireworks are prohibited within 500 metres of any explosives factory, explosives storage place, petrol depot or petrol station, inside any building, on any agricultural holding, at any public place, or at any school, old age home or hospital.

Additionally, no person may light or ignite fireworks in any place where animals are present. In addition, Section 32 of the Emergency Services By-Laws states that anyone wishing to present a fireworks display must apply to the Chief Fire Officer 14 days prior.

Fireworks may only be used during the following designated times:

  • Guy Fawkes (5 November) from 7pm to 10pm
  • Diwali (14/5 November) from 7pm to 11pm.
  • Christmas Eve (24 December) from 7pm to 10pm
  • Day of Goodwill (26 December) from 7pm to 10pm
  • New Year’s Eve (31 December) from 11pm to 1am
  • New Year’s Day (1 January) from 7pm to 10pm
  • Human Rights Day (21 March) from 7pm to 10pm
  • Freedom Day (27 April) from 7pm to 10pm
  • Lag B’Omer from 7pm to 10pm
  • Chinese New Year from 7pm to 10pm
  • Hindu New Year from 7pm to 11pm

Why are dogs scared of fireworks?

Dogs and fireworks generally don’t mix. While some don’t appear to be fazed by fireworks, it’s natural for dogs to be afraid of the loud bangs. After all, we humans know where these booming, unpredictable sounds are coming from but our four-legged friends don’t understand. Fear and anxiety are natural reactions to something that could be seen as a threat to their survival.

Why are dogs and fireworks such a dangerous combination?

Thousands more need medication for stress and dog anxiety attacks as a result of fireworks. If your dog becomes afraid during fireworks and ends up hurting themselves, make sure to contact your vet immediately. As the proverb states, being forewarned is forearmed. Knowing your dog’s temperament, how they react for loud noises, rather make arrangements with your Vet as well, since firework usage happens outside of normal business hours.

How do I know if my dog is scared of fireworks?

Signs that your dog is scared of fireworks can include shaking, pacing up and down or panting heavily. They may also bark more than normal, tremble, hide or drool. Other signs of distress include destructiveness and soiling unexpectedly.

However, keep in mind that even if your dog isn’t shaking or whimpering, this doesn’t mean they aren’t distressed, they may express their anxiety in a different way.

Why do dogs bark at fireworks?

Barking at fireworks might seem like a strange reaction for your dog to have but barking is a natural expression of fear or anxiety.

Safety Tips for your Furbaby

Frightened animals may flee their homes trying to escape the startling and confusing blasts. It’s not uncommon for dogs to break through windows and screen doors or dig under fences in a panic. Prepare your home and animal companions before the event:

  • Exercise your dog early in the day and ensure they are kept inside in a safe place where they cannot escape if frightened by sudden loud noises.
  • Distract your cats and dogs by giving them lots of love and attention.
  • Keep the windows closed and curtains drawn, and turn on a radio or television to help mask the sound of fireworks.
  • If they have to be let out into the garden after dark, it is best to place them on a lead and keep the outing brief. You may need to consider providing a litter tray so that your cat has a choice about whether they go out or not.
  • Make sure that all your animals are wearing collars with current identification tags in the vent run away.
  • Ensure there is a safe place for your pet to hide as this is a natural survival instinct. Ideally, this would need to be a place where the noise is minimised but, your pet may already have a favourite hiding place that you should make available and comfortable for this time.
  • Some pets feel more secure if they can sit with you. This is fine and won’t cause the fear to worsen. Stay calm and offer your companionship support. Be ready to offer a toy or treat if they relax enough to engage in this way.
  • Try not to react to the fireworks yourself. If they frighten you, your pet will feel more alarmed. Try to act normally, and where possible, engage your pet in a favourite game or reward them with treats just as the noises begin.
  • Remember that wherever your pets are in the home, they will need access to freshwater. Anxious dogs often pant more and therefore, may be thirstier than normal. Do not try to make your pet drink if they are fearful, just ensure access to water is possible.
  • Get your dog used to loud noises. You can do this using sound therapy, which gradually exposes your dog to noises over time. There are many products available, including free sound-based treatment programmes from Dog’s Trust.

The most important thing for scared animals is to have their guardians close by.

Don'ts when dealing with fireworks and dogs

Regardless of your dog’s reaction to fireworks, you should NEVER do any of the following:

  • Tie your dog up outside if fireworks are being set off
  • Let them off the lead near a fireworks display
  • Leave your dog alone if he’s suffering from firework anxiety — just like us, our pets seek comfort in numbers, so your presence will help reassure him
  • Shout at your dog if he’s destructive as a result of distress — this will only upset him more

 My dog is terrified of fireworks, what can I do?

If you’re really concerned about your dog’s fear of fireworks, it’s worth chatting with a vet to see what options are available. You may also want to rule out other conditions that might be causing their behaviour, such as poisoning, brain or thyroid disease.

If your dog has been injured or you think their condition might be life-threatening, contact your vet or for emergency out-of-hours treatment.

What can I give my dog for fireworks anxiety?

There are medications that your vet can give to dogs to help with anxiety, although these are generally only prescribed as a last resort. Speak to your vet in advance and they will be able to discuss the best options for your pet.

There are also over-the-counter products, such as calming collars and plugins, which claim to send calming messages to help your dog feel calm during periods of high stress or anxiety.

We have a range of items you can use to reduce the anxiety in dogs like:

Can I take my dog to a fireworks display?

If you’ve gotten this far and this is still a question, then please scroll up and re-read!

No really….but to be clear you should never take your dog to a fireworks display or walk your dog while fireworks are being set off.

Just because a dog isn’t showing signs of firework anxiety doesn’t mean they aren’t quietly terrified of the loud, unfamiliar and potentially dangerous situation they have been put in.

Closing thoughts

While you may not use fireworks, it’s important to know and respect that others do and are permitted by the law during designated dates and times. It’s a balancing act of rights and respect for all. As an animal owner there are additional considerations. Prepare your home environment during these times and if necessary use calming aids to reduce the stress, fear and anxiety your dog might experience during these times.

Originally adapted from Vets Now and Midrand Reporter

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