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Pets’ fear of fireworks widespread problem

28 October 2005

Pets’ fear of fireworks widespread problem

New Unitec research involving more than 1000 pet owners shows that 51 percent of pets have problems coping with fireworks.

Professor Natalie Waran, an animal behaviour and welfare researcher and lecturer at Unitec, says anecdotal evidence suggested that many cats and dogs suffer distress during Guy Fawkes, but there was a lack of scientific research on the topic.

“We were aware of many cases of animals showing serious fear responses to fireworks – including one case where a dog actually jumped through a glass window to get to its owner – but we couldn’t be sure how widespread the issue was, so we approached the Auckland SPCA and they were hugely supportive, sponsoring our study and helping us distribute the questionnaires.”

The research team included Professor Waran, Unitec animal welfare lecturers Arnja Dale and Mark Farnworth, and final-year Bachelor of Applied Animal Technology student Sarah Morrissey. Questionnaires were distributed to pet owners mainly via the SPCA magazine Animals’ Voice.

The team received more than 1000 responses relating to 3527 pets, and 51 percent of the pets showed some problems concerning fireworks.

Of these problem pets, more than 50 percent were described as very or extremely scared by their owners and 8 percent had received help, mainly from their vet. Professor Waran says that the animals’ responses to fireworks ranged from trembling and hiding to escape and destructive acts, and a small number of pets (51) had been injured while trying to escape or hide.

Based on the results, the research team concluded that while pet owners could plan for organised public fireworks displays, private use of fireworks – especially in urban areas – was unpredictable and lasted for a few weeks around Guy Fawkes night, presenting a considerable challenge to pets and their owners.

Professor Waran says the research clearly shows that the use of fireworks is a problem for many pets. “The Unitec team concluded that, although banning the private sale of fireworks may help some pets, there is still a need for pet owners to prevent fear of fireworks from developing in their pets from a young age.

“Animals can be trained to cope with the sound of fireworks – for example puppies between the ages of 3-14 weeks can be desensitised using standard behaviour training programmes. You should ask your vet to put you in touch with an animal behaviourist so that you can start to work on preventative methods in advance.

“But where pets have already developed problems related to fireworks, there are a number of simple things owners can do to help their animals cope. They can create a den or safe dark place indoors that the pet can hide in.

“Drawing the curtains helps and so does playing soft music, but owners need to recognise that if their pet is showing a full-blown fear response, it may need professional help. Interestingly, the Unitec research showed that many owners were not aware that help was available.“


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