It’s that time of year again. As we celebrate this beautiful weather with bonfires, gardening, and barbecuing, it truly feels like summer has officially arrived. But there’s one tradition that many pet owners don’t look forward to this time of year: fireworks.
Every year, the same debate takes place on our streets, on social media, and even on mainstream television: should loud, bright fireworks be banned?
For dog owners, the answer is almost always a resounding 'yes’. Fireworks can cause extreme anxiety and fear reactions in canines, causing them to cower and tremble in terror, or even lash out (due to stress) at those who are trying to help them.
Loud Sounds Are Frightening to Dogs
Dogs have far more sensitive hearing than humans do, so fireworks are extraordinarily loud for them. A dog’s hearing is about four times more acute than human hearing. The intense percussion from fireworks can cause a startle reaction, resulting in overwhelming distress. All dogs deal with stressors from fireworks in different ways, however a great number of dogs will become frightened, unpredictable, and inconsolable.
In many cases, when a dog is scared by the sound of fireworks, they’ll go into fight-or-flight mode. Known as an acute stress response, the body produces a sudden rush of hormones (such as adrenaline) in an effort to survive imminent danger. This is an intense psychological and physiological response that puts enormous stress on the body and mind, resulting in an increased rate of breathing, rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, and more.
This is especially problematic for elderly dogs, or dogs with pre-existing health issues, where the extra stress brought on by fireworks may put them at high risk for further medical issues.
In some cases, the loud bang of fireworks may also cause irreparable damage to a dog’s delicate hearing.
Fireworks Are Not The Same As Thunderstorms
How do fireworks differ from a thunderstorm? Dogs can measure changes in their environment to detect an incoming storm ahead of time. Thunderstorms come with advanced warnings, such as changes in barometric pressure and humidity. Dogs are rarely caught off guard by thunderstorms; they expect the thunder, and generally have some time to mentally prepare for its arrival.
While that’s not true for all dogs, it is for most. Many dogs, usually smaller dogs, are still scared by thunder, but not typically to the degree to which they would be scared by fireworks.
Fireworks, on the other hand, do not come with distinct warnings. They’re sudden, abrupt, and intense, and for most dogs there is no way to prepare for that.
And we haven’t even scratched the surface as to how fireworks negatively affect local wildlife, but that is a conversation for another day.
Fireworks Have An Offensive Odour
Believe it or not, the odour from many types of fireworks is considered offensive for dogs, which experience smells much more intensely than humans do. A dog’s sense of smell is forty times greater than a human’s. For some dogs, the smell of fireworks in the air may cause lack of appetite and irritability, among other things. Of course, the closer your canine is to the action, the more the smell may affect them.
How Can I Help My Dog Deal With Fireworks
The vast majority of dogs are affected negatively by fireworks, even if they don’t show obvious symptoms. Subtle signs like dilated pupils, salivating, pale or flushed skin, excessive panting or yawning, may indicate your dog is experiencing a stress reaction to fireworks.
In order to prepare in advance, start by asking your neighbours to let you know when they're planning to light fireworks. Many pet owners will take their pets to visit a friend, or simply go for a drive to get away for a while. With a little notice, those who stay home can take measures to reduce their dog’s stress reaction to fireworks.
To help your dog stay calm at home during fireworks, begin by finding the safest, most sound-proofed room in your home. Fill the room with lots of distractions: their favourite toys, their bed, and lots of treats for distraction. This is also a great time to introduce a tasty frozen enrichment activity, like a stuffed Kong-like toy. You can also muffle some outside noise by turning on the television or radio to a louder-than-normal volume.
To calm a dog during times of high stress, there are calming aids available. Popular stress-relieving remedies include pheromone diffusers, CBD oils, and compression garments (like Thundershirts). These stress aids can be a huge help in keeping your dog calm and content during times of stress. And don’t forget about exercise! A tired dog is a calm, happy dog. If you know when to expect fireworks, plan to exercise your dog more during the day to work off that extra energy that may fuel a fight-or-flight reaction.
And, most importantly, act normal. Your dog can easily pick up on the smallest changes in your behaviour, and if you are stressed, they will ultimately feed off that. Stay calm, stay positive, and above all, remain patient.
So, should fireworks be banned? It depends on your perspective. For many humans, fireworks are beautiful mosaics of light and sound and are a symbol of celebration. However, from a dog’s perspective, fireworks can be detrimental to their well-being, and may very well be the greatest stressor they will ever have to face in their short lives.
Brandon Forder, known as The Pet Expert, is vice-president of Canadian Pet Connection, an industry leader in healthy pet lifestyles. Brandon holds multiple certifications in pet nutrition, and has more than twenty-five years' experience specializing in pet health and behaviour. He has written hundreds of informative pet-related articles for newspapers, magazines, radio, and the popular Ask the Pet Expert Blog. Brandon is highly skilled in pet problem solving, and enjoys teaching others about smart and responsible pet ownership. To learn more, visit www.CanadianPetConnection.ca.