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

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

Over half of the companion animals surveyed exhibited fear behaviour duringfireworks displays (63% of dogs and 56% of cats). The most commonly observedfear behaviours were hiding, shivering and cowering. Escape behaviour wascommonly reported in free-roaming animals such as cats and horses. The mostcommon 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 thosewith extremely scared pets or pets that had previously injured themselvesduring a fireworks display were more likely to seek help. The findings of thisstudy suggest that fireworks are a welfare concern for many owners and theirpets across New Zealand.

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

Source: RSPCA Science Update October

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