Pets and fireworks

Why fireworks aren't fun for everyone

The sudden loud noises and bright flashing lights that most of us associate with fireworks can be very frightening for many animals. It's estimated that 45 per cent of dogs show signs of fear when they hear fireworks. And animals can end up injured when they run and hide from the fireworks too.

And it's not just our pets who suffer when the fireworks are out, livestock can be startled, and are at risk of injuring themselves on fencing or the fixtures within their housing. Wildlife are also likely to be distressed by the explosive noise and light. And the debris which the fireworks leave behind could pose a risk to any animal who comes across them.

Over the last seven years, we've seen a dramatic increase in the number of people calling our emergency line, worried about the effect that fireworks are having on the animals around them.

Many animals find fireworks scary. It's estimated that 45% of dogs in the UK show signs of fear when they hear them. It doesn't have to be that way though - there are lots of simple things you can do to help your pet deal with fireworks.

How to calm dogs during fireworks

Before the firework season begins

Planning ahead can help dogs cope with the fireworks season. Before the fireworks season starts, provide your dog with a doggy safe haven. This should be a quiet area, so choose one of the quietest rooms in your home ¿ a place where they feel in control. Don't interfere with your dog when they're in that area. 

Train your dog to associate the area with positive experiences, e.g. by leaving their favourite toys there, but not imposing yourself at any time. Use a variety of chew toys, such as stuffed Kongs and chews, and swap them regularly, putting them away when not in use so that your dog doesn't become bored with them.

With time, dogs can learn that this place is safe and enjoyable. When fireworks go off, they may choose to go there because they know, in that place, no harm will come to them and they are more able to cope. It's important that your dog has access to this doggy safe haven at all times ¿ even when you're not at home.

When the fireworks start

  • Walk your dog during daylight hours to avoid times when fireworks are likely to be set off.
  • Move your dog to the safe haven each evening before the fireworks begin, and provide toys and other things that they enjoy. Make sure there are things for you to do too, so your dog isn't left alone.
  • Close windows and curtains to muffle the sound of fireworks and blackout your doggy safe haven so they can't see any flashes outside.
  • Put on some music or TV to mask the firework sounds.
  • Ignore the firework noises yourself. Play with a toy to see if your dog wants to join in, but don't force them to play.

You could also talk to your vet about pheromone diffusers. These disperse calming chemicals into the room and maybe a good option for your dog. In some cases, your vet may even prescribe medication.

In the long term, however, your dog needs to learn to be less afraid of loud noises, so that the next fireworks season will be less stressful for you and your dog. This is possible with behavioural therapy. Sound Therapy 4 Pets is a therapy pack available to teach your dogs to be less scared of loud noises.

In the video below, we talk about how to build a safe dog den and other top tips on keeping your pets safe and happy this fireworks season.

How to help cats who are afraid of fireworks

  • Provide hiding places in your home, such as under some furniture or in a quiet corner.
  • Don't try and tempt your cat out, as this will cause them to become more stressed.
  • Consider keeping them in - cats can become more stressed if they're outside during fireworks.
  • Microchip your cats in case they're startled and escape outside.

How to help small animals during fireworks

  • Partly cover outside cages and pens with blankets so an area is soundproofed and hidden, but allow another area for the animals to look out.
  • Provide bedding for small animals to burrow in.
  • Consider bringing them indoors - this will need to be done gradually, so plan ahead.

Keeping horses safe during fireworks

It's not just the animals in your home that can be scared of fireworks - horses can be too. If you're a horse owner:

  • Know in advance - check to see if there are going to be any firework displays in your area.
  • Talk to the organisers - where possible, tell the organisers of firework displays that there are horses nearby and ask them to set off their fireworks in the opposite direction.
  • Get BHS advice - for top tips on keeping your horse safe and secure during the firework season, please follow the advice from the British Horse Society.
Advice for pet owners during the fireworks season © RSPCA

How to treat firework phobia

Firework phobia is a treatable condition and animals don't have to suffer every year. Seek advice from your vet who will, if necessary, be able to refer you to a professional clinical animal behaviourist. Never punish your pets when they're scared, as this will only make things worse in the long run. 

Acknowledgement for this information is made to Prof Daniel Mills. Read more about our Expert contributors.

Fireworks don't have to be so scary

Although we want to see changes to our firework regulations, to protect all animals - there are things that you can do to make the experience less scary for your pet.

Firework phobia is a treatable condition, and you should seek advice from your vet who will, if necessary, be able to refer you to a professional clinical animal behaviourist.

You can also contact us if you're concerned about livestock or wild animals who have been affected by fireworks and their debris.

What laws are currently in place?

The Fireworks Act 2003 and the Fireworks Regulations 2004 were introduced over a decade ago with the aim of reducing the noise, nuisance and injuries caused by the misuse of fireworks across England, Wales and Scotland.

The current main regulations are:

  • A curfew so that fireworks can't be used between 11pm and 7am, although there are some exceptions for New Year's Eve, Chinese New Year and Diwali.
  • A ban on fireworks with a noise level exceeding 120 decibels being sold to the public. 120 decibels is still louder than an automatic drill or car horn, and comparable to the noise of a jet engine taking off!
  • A ban on selling fireworks outside of the special holiday dates listed above, unless the sale is licensed by the relevant Local Authority, Fire Service or Health and Safety Executive.

Although this legislation was a good start, we'd like to see it go further to protect the welfare of the animals around us.

Making fireworks fairer for animals

We're supporting calls for three important amends to be made to our current firework regulations, and we hope that they will be raised in the debate on 29 January. These are:

  • Restricting the use of fireworks to the agreed traditional dates (November 5th, New Year's Eve, Chinese New Year and Diwali) only. So that there are limitations not just on the sale of fireworks at other times of the year, but on the use of them too.
  • Reducing the maximum permitted noise level of fireworks to 97 decibels, about the same level of noise as a door slamming. Fireworks louder than this would only be used for licensed public displays. We'd also like fireworks to be labelled as 'loud' or 'low noise' so that shoppers are able to make informed decisions.
  • Ensuring that all public firework displays need a license from the relevant licensing authority, and giving all local residents the opportunity to appeal against the granting of the licence.

Do you think it's #BangOutOfOrder?

We want to change firework regulations to make them safer for animals. Join our fireworks campaign.

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Advice for pet owners during the fireworks season © RSPCA


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