The Reasons Behind Dogs’ Fear of Fireworks. How to Reduce Their Anxiety

Discover the origin of these fears and what we can do for reducing their anxiety

Fireworks and celebratory explosives have been used by cultures around the world for centuries to commemorate important events [1]. While these loud and bright displays are valued cultural traditions for humans, they can cause intense stress and fear in animals, particularly dogs [2]. Canine hearing is highly sensitive, with a hearing range spanning four times higher frequencies than humans detect [3]. As a result, dogs may perceive explosions as much louder and more disturbing than their owners do [4]. Check out below the origin of these fears and what we can do to reduce their anxiety

Canine Hearing Sensitivity

When considering the effects of fireworks on dogs, it is critical to consider canine hearing sensitivity and range. Dogs detect sounds ranging from 40 to 45,000 Hz across eight or more octaves, whereas the human ear detects only sounds ranging from 64 to 20,000 Hz across less than six octaves.

In addition, the evolutionary history of dogs as a highly social species that relied on vocal communication with pack members contributed to their refined auditory system and sound sensitivity [6]. While hearing potential predators or prey with their packs is advantageous, such auditory acuity becomes detrimental when dogs are confronted with sudden explosions at close range. Fireworks produce noise levels of up to 190 decibels, far exceeding even the 140 decibel pain threshold for adults and the even lower 120 decibel threshold for babies [5], [7]. Therefore, considering that the pain threshold for dogs is around 50 decibels, dogs are likely to perceive nearby fireworks at exponentially more painful and distressing decibel levels.

Unpredictability and Perceived Lack of Control

In addition to their loudness, fireworks explosions are unpredictable and inconsistent, which contributes significantly to canine anxiety and perceptions of environmental instability [8]. Canines, which are highly territorial, routine-oriented, and vulnerable as prey animals, rely on the predictability and stability of stimuli patterns to feel secure [9]. Destabilising events, such as fireworks, disrupt dogs’ sense of safety in previously safe locations, such as their home. Furthermore, most companion dogs today receive little education in order to safely acclimatise them to loud noises before maturity [10].

Dogs’ fight-or-flight instincts are activated when they perceive a lack of control over their environment and an inability to escape or avoid fear-inducing firework stimuli [11]. With no obvious way to “flight” from the constant noises, and no actual physical threat to fight, this causes frustration and panic. Because the bright lights, flames, smoke, and deafening cracks have no clear natural precedent or printed species’ threat display in canine ethology, dogs feel powerless to control or even comprehend the source of their terror.

Fear Reactions and Health Consequences

The acute stress of fireworks exposure can cause a range of physiologic and behavioural fear responses in dogs [12]. Reactions range from mildly elevated heart rates, panting, trembling, and clingy behaviour to full-fledged panic attacks with racing heart rates, hyperventilation, involuntary urination/defecation, attempts at destruction/self-injury, and vocalising [13]. While the majority of dogs experience mild to moderate transient anxiety, risk factors such as pre-existing anxiety disorders or noise phobias can predispose animals to more extreme, prolonged responses with long-term behavioural consequences [14].

In addition to panic attacks and short-term distress, research has revealed potentially fatal physiological effects in canines from intense, sudden stress [15]. Overstimulation of the nervous system can result in cardiac arrhythmias, hypertension with the risk of stroke or seizures, myocardial infarction, and even sudden death from fatal arrhythmias or cardiac arrest [16].

This is especially concerning for elderly or medically compromised dogs with a history of cardiovascular or neurological disease. Unfortunately, published data on the mortality rates associated with fireworks noise in dogs is still lacking. However, one study discovered that more than 40% of owner-reported noise phobia cases in dogs also had medically concerning comorbidities such as cardiovascular disease, which can be fatal if exacerbated by intense stress [17]. Clearly, the potential medical risks posed by excessive noise necessitate additional scientific investigation in order to optimise animal welfare.

Suggestions for Reducing Dogs’ Fear of Fireworks

While outlawing fireworks is unrealistic given their widespread use in celebrations around the world, several strategies can significantly reduce canine stress and harm when displays occur near homes or public spaces [18].

First and foremost, during fireworks, dogs should always have access to an enclosed, insulated space with covered windows and doors, reducing noise and flashing light exposure [19]. Soft fabrics, insulation, and music/white noise machines can help muffle frightening outside noises. Given the risk of flight, dogs should never be left outside or restrained during fireworks.

Owners who remain calmly present with distressed dogs while distracting/reassuring them with toys, treats, massage, or games help far more than leaving them alone [20]. Under veterinary supervision, sedative medications or pheromones such as Adaptil may benefit certain noise-phobic dogs, whereas mild stress can be relieved with treats, positive conditioning, and maintaining normal routines [21].

Public education advising neighbours about planned displays and keeping fireworks away from residential areas and animal shelters shows promise for improving outcomes at the community level [22]. The prohibition of homemade/unsafe explosives aids in the control of noise levels and unpredictability.

Dogs' Fear of Fireworks

Continued research should look into the efficacy of pharmaceutical and behavioural treatments for existing fireworks-related anxiety disorders. We must also quantify negative physiological effects in dogs in order to motivate policy changes in areas where appropriate protections are lacking. The beloved tradition of fireworks viewing does not have to jeopardise animal welfare with informed preparation by owners and community awareness.

Conclusion

In conclusion, fireworks cause severe stress in dogs due to their sensitive hearing, inability to predict/control the startling stimuli, and the resulting fight-or-flight physiological responses. Reactions range from mild anxiety to medical complications such as panic attacks, arrhythmias, or sudden death.

Safe spaces for dogs, positive distractions, proper training and counterconditioning, and sedative medications can all help to prevent and mitigate harm. There are still unanswered questions about the prevalence of mortality and critical medical events linked to fireworks noise, which necessitates further scientific investigation in order to motivate appropriate policy changes and protection standards for optimal canine welfare.

References

[1] RSPCA. “Our View: Fireworks.” RSPCA, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, https://www.rspca.org.uk/getinvolved/campaign/fireworks.

[2] Dale, A.R., Walker, J.K., Farnworth, M.J. et al. A Survey of Owners’ Perceptions of Fear of Fireworks in a Sample of Dogs and Cats in New Zealand. N Z Vet J 58, 286–291 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1080/00480169.2010.69403

[3] Heffner HE. Hearing in large and small dogs: Absolute thresholds and size of the tympanic membrane. Behav Neurosci. 1983;97(2):310-318. doi:10.1037//0735-7044.97.2.310

[4] Landsberg GM, Beck A, Lopez A, Deniaud M, Araujo JA, Milgram NW. Dog-appeasing pheromone collars reduce sound-induced fear and anxiety in beagle dogs: a placebo-controlled study. Vet Rec. 2015;177(20):260. doi:10.1136/vr.103471

[5] Strain GM. Deafness prevalence and pigmentation and gender associations in dog breeds at risk. Vet J. 2004;167(1):23-32. doi:10.1016/S1090-0233(03)00104-7

[6] Coren S. How Dogs Work. New York, NY: Free Press; 2014.

[7] Hajeb P, Jinap S. Pyrolysis of fireworks: Health issues. Environ Res. 2015;143(Pt A):192-201. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2015.10.004

[8] Levine ED, Ramos D, Mills DS. A prospective study of two self-help CD based desensitization and counter-conditioning programmes with the use of Dog Appeasing Pheromone for the treatment of firework fears in dogs (Canis familiaris). Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2007;105(4):311-329. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2006.11.006

[9] Overall KL. Noise phobias in dogs. In: Horwitz DF, Mills DS, Heath S, eds. BSAVA manual of canine and feline behavioural medicine. Quedgeley: British Small Animal Veterinary Association; 2002:182-191.

[10] Levine ED. Sound sensitivity in dogs: manifestations, diagnosis and treatments. Compend Contin Educ Vet. 2018 Jan;40(1):E5.

[11] Dreschel NA. The effects of fear and anxiety on health and lifespan in pet dogs. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2010;125(3-4):157-162. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2010.04.003

[12] Landsberg G, Denenberg S, Araujo JA. Cognitive dysfunction in cats: a syndrome we used to dismiss as ‘old age’. J Feline Med Surg. 2010;12(11):837-848. doi:10.1016/j.jfms.2010.09.007

[13] Gruen ME, Case BC, Foster ML, et al. The use of an adaptil collar to reduce fear-related behaviour in dogs with noise sensitivity. J Vet Behav. 2014;9(5):247. doi:10.1016/j.jveb.2014.05.001

[14] Levine ED, Mills DS. Fears, anxieties, aggressions and stereotypies. In: Horwitz DF, Mills DS, Heath S, eds. BSAVA manual of canine and feline behavioural medicine. Quedgeley: British Small Animal Veterinary Association; 2002:142-153

[15] Quaranta A, Siniscalchi M, Frate A, Vallortigara G, Rogers LJ. Paw preference in dogs: relations between lateralised behaviour and immunity. Behav Brain Res. 2004;153(2):521-525. doi:10.1016/j.bbr.2004.01.009

[16] Santana TF, Konno A, Fregonesi CEPT, et al. Relation between cardiovascular parameters and animal-owner bonding style in owned dogs. J Vet Behav. 2019;29:88-94. doi:10.1016/j.jveb.2018.11.003

[17] Storengen LM, Boge SC, Strøm SJ, Løberg G, Lingaas F. Noise sensitivity in 17 dog breeds: Prevalence, breed risk and correlation with fear in other situations. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2014;158:61-68. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2014.06.004

[18] Merola I, Mills DS. Systematic Review of the Behavioural Effects of Fireworks on Domestic Dogs (Canis familiaris) and Their Management. Front Vet Sci. 2021 Dec 10;8:793071. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2021.793071.

[19] Levitis DA, Lidicker WZ Jr, Freund G. Behavioural biologists do not agree on what constitutes behaviour. Anim Behav. 2009;78(1):103-110. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.03.018

[20] Dreschel NA, Granger DA. Physiological and behavioral reactivity to stress in thunderstorm-phobic dogs and their caregivers. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2005;95(3-4):153-168. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2005.06.009

[21] Gonçalves J, Majchrzak Y, Braud A, Sarazin N, Santos NM, Fernandes IA, Valença AMP, Mendonça L, Mills DS. Effectiveness of Dog Appeasing Pheromone in managing stress-related signs in dogs housed in rescue shelters. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2020 Oct;231:105064. doi: 10.1016/j.applanim.2020.105064.

[22] Merola I, Prato-Previde E, Lazzaroni M, Marshall-Pescini S. Dogs’ Comprehension of Referential Emotional Expressions: Familiar People and Familiar Emotions Are Easier. Anim Cogn. 2014 Mar;17(2):373-85. doi: 10.1007/s10071-013-0660-1.

Bookmark (0)
ClosePlease login
Quantum Soul
Quantum Soul

Science evangelist, Art lover

Articles: 122

One comment

  1. What I fail to comprehend is how you are not considerably more intelligently favored than you already are. You are exceptionally intelligent, and your comprehensive understanding of this subject has convinced me to believe it from a multitude of perspectives. It seems that both men and women are uninterested in it unless it has something to do with Lady Gaga. Your own work is truly remarkable; consistently maintain it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *