Pet anxiety on Bonfire Night

A literal blast, November 5, or Bonfire Night is a good time for everyone, that is, apart from your pets.

Scared and jarred by the loud noises, it’s not such a calendar highlight for any animals that may live with you. The loud bangs and bright flashes cause fear and anxiety in an estimated 45% of dogs in the UK, according to the RSPCA.

And this year may be particularly challenging, as fears of Covid contagion will keep many at home and away from public gatherings, perhaps opting instead for home displays in the closer proximity of domestic back gardens.

It’s a big problem for pet owners. In fact, vets recently called for a complete ban on fireworks sales in supermarkets over the danger they pose to pets, a move that was widely praised by dogs’ charities.

Retailers are responding in kind. Sainsbury’s stopped selling fireworks in 2019, while ASDA recently began selling ‘low-noise’ fireworks as a nod to worried pet owners.

Simon Hayes, veterinarian and primary care medical director of Linnaeus veterinary practices, said: “This is the most challenging time of year for pet owners, as there are so many potential triggers of stress in animals coming up over the next few months.

“There are the bangs of fireworks, the noisy and hectic festive season, including unfamiliar faces and smells, all of which can cause stress in our pets. And, while some owners will seek guidance and advice, we also know there are many others pets who will just suffer through this period.

“Whether it’s trick or treaters knocking on doors, Bonfire Night revellers letting off fireworks, or further seasonal celebrations up until Christmas and the New Year, autumn and winter can be an anxious time of year for many pets, and not just dogs.”

Sometimes, the emotional distress is bad enough to manifest into physical problems. A recent survey by the British Veterinary Association found that one in 14 vets across the country reported seeing animals with firework-related injuries; and by far the most reported cases were self-injuries caused by fireworks-related anxiety, such as tooth injuries to dogs from chewing furniture.

Some of the firework-related trauma is anatomical. Dogs can frequently hear four times the distance than humans can, and at a much higher frequency.

Mars Petcare animal behaviourist Dr Tammie King said: “In addition to more sensitive hearing compared to humans, they will not be able to recognise the source of the sound, which can result in fear and anxiety.

“Some pets may also have negative associations with loud noises or have had a bad experience in the past and have since developed a generalised fear of other loud noises. On the flipside, it could be that they’ve had limited exposure to loud noises, for example, lack of experience, while others have a genetic predisposition for high sensitivity.”

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