Does Firework Fear really kill dogs?

Firework heart

Another fireworks season has begun, and already we’re seeing reports of dogs being “scared to death” by fireworks. This isn’t an isolated incident either – every year similar reports surface (for example, in 2018, 2017, and 2007). In many cases, this is put down to a “heart attack” or “fright”; in others, it’s the dog’s attempt to escape from the terrifying noises that kills them. But is this a real thing? Are fireworks really that dangerous?

 

The answer…

Yes, they are that dangerous. Not because your dog is likely to die from fright (although see below…), but because so many dogs suffer terribly from severe psychological distress as a result of the stress that they suffer when fireworks are being let off in the vicinity. RSPCA data suggests that over 60% of dogs show marked signs of distress when exposed to firework displays, even outside the home. Applied to the UK canine population, that suggests that there are at least five and a half million dogs that are subjected to unnecessary fear and distress every year.

 

But can it kill them?

Directly, it’s very unlikely – but not impossible. While I’m unaware of any situations where it’s been conclusively demonstrated that a completely healthy dog has died from fear, a dog with a (possibly unrecognised) underlying health condition (such as certain heart conditions) certainly could. This might explain why most of the reports are of very old or very young dogs. While there aren’t any post mortem test results available from most of these reports, it is theoretically possible and therefore we must take them at face value.

 

So should fireworks be banned?

It is one option, that is being strongly promoted by many animal welfare groups. There are a number of petitions to restrict or ban the use of firework displays, and I do sympathise – banning them would save a LOT of distress. 

Personally, though, I think banning things is generally a bad knee-jerk reaction. Remember, 40% of dogs aren’t distressed at all by the presence of fireworks, so I think we need to look to these to try and find a long-term solution. The most likely explanation is that most of these dogs aren’t “braver” but were socialised when young puppies to accept unexpected loud noises and lights as being normal. Perhaps we should be putting a Sounds Scary CD into every puppy pack?! And of course, this principle of desensitisation can work on almost any dog, at any age (it just takes longer in an older dog; and if your dog has already developed a phobia, you may need advice from a good, qualified, canine behaviourist – see your vet for recommendations).

 

But is there anything I can do NOW?!

Yes! There’s great advice here from the Dogs Trust. Top tips…

1) Build a safe den where they can hide away from the nastiness outdoors

2) Make sure you walk them early on, so they’re tired before dark and the fireworks begin.

3) Get Adaptil diffusers set up in your home  – it’s a bit late now but it may still help.

4) Close the windows and curtains and turn on the radio or TV. Not only will this help drown out the sounds from outdoors, but it will also make it harder for your dog to escape and hurt themselves.

5) Try to stay calm yourself and reward calm behaviour in your dog – if you’re stressed, so will they be! And never punish a dog for showing signs of fear – you’ll just confuse them and make matters worse.

6) If all else fails, contact your vet for emergency medication to help your dog cope.

 

Bottom line – desensitisation is the solution, but you need to live through this year first! Talk to your vet for advice, stay calm, and ride it out.

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12 thoughts on “Does Firework Fear really kill dogs?

  1. I have a 12 year old cross breed and she gets really stressed barking running to door where my 3 year old Chi stays calm but loves his cuddkes

    1. There are many people killed every year by dogs and other animals. We don’t ban animals. Fireworks shouldn’t be banned either. We all have to find ways to cope and co-exist together. My daughter was bit in the face by a dog and she was terrified for a long time to be outside if there were dogs outside. I never begrudged any dog or owner for my child’s fear, but rather socialized my daughter with dogs over many years and she now loves them. Banning things is just lazy and doesn’t really help your dog (or my daughter).

    2. This generation will get together to ban everything. It’s a new form of extremism and pretty soon they’ll ban reality out of existence. To stay on topic though, My dog is a large, scary looking dog that is very nice and sensitive. 2020 4th of July fireworks really scared her and face her anxiety. I think desensitization is the best form of helping dogs overcome this natural anxiety

  2. This is terrible. I live in a big city and people are literally letting off the loudest fireworks between apartment buildings. So the booms are amplified. My dog is so scared, I’m literally terrified for her. I can’t believe how many ignorant people there are. Not a concern for anything but getting their jolly’s off on making shit explode in small spaces with metal carports to amplify every noise.

  3. Fireworks ARE banned in my area but it doesn’t stop idiots from setting them off because they don’t get in trouble. They set off loud booming “bombs” & large packs of firecrackers. My dog is scared senseless. The TV etc are all on full blast but he can still hear it. I’M scared to death for him as he gets older. Is there ANYTHING we can do to make it stop?

  4. We had a firework display in the neighborhood for 4th of july. My pig is a rescue and had trust issues when we got him. He is 5 years old. There had been fireworks for a while and he was scared but then there was the 4th of july fireworks and he was a mess. We come to the day after. My dog is acting very strange. His trust issues are back and he wont go near anyone. And if we go to him he gets very fresh. We cant touch him or go near him. He also LOVES walks. He didnt even budge or get excited for his walk the day after fireworks. What can I do to get my dog back to normal? We worked very hard over the last few months since getting him to trust us and now I just dont know what to do. It kills me that he wont let me love him or want love from me. Thank you!

    1. This isn’t uncommon unfortunately – I would advise asking your vet for a referral to a good force-free clinical canine behaviourist who can help. Best of luck!

  5. Fireworks are bad for dog after the 4 my dog was never the same and he die from this. Our hearts is broken our neighbor who did this don’t understand the pain this cause. Something need to be done.

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