As the year draws quickly to a close, ‘silly season’ creeps near, which is often a very trying time for our pets. Families vacation, sometimes leaving their pets behind (hopefully in a reputable kennel or in the care of trustworthy sitters), throwing them out of routine and often into unfamiliar circumstances. This unsettling period frequently culminates in a night of terror, for many pets, brought on by the use of fireworks in our celebrations and often worsened by memories of similar experiences the previous month, during Guy Fawkes and Diwali.
New Year is a celebration of new beginnings and should therefore take into consideration all the beings that share this planet with us. The impact of our celebrations on pets and other animals is often forgotten and can have lasting and detrimental effects.
It is typical for the number of stray animals to increase at this time of year, largely due to runaways trying to escape the noise that causes fear, anxiety, panic and confusion. The effects go a lot further than just feelings of fear in the moment – beloved pets go missing, cause themselves severe trauma and injuries, through their escape attempts, and often lasting changes in normal behavior are seen.
“An animal’s ear is far more sensitive than the human ear,” says Barry Hundley, Executive Director of the Pet Food Industry Association of Southern Africa (PFI). “The explosion of a firework, which can emit sounds of up to 190 decibels (a full 110 to 115 decibels higher than the point at which damage to the human ear begins) is far more distressing to an animal and can damage the animal’s acute sense of hearing. Animals that are too close to firework explosions can even suffer significant burns and eye damage,” adds Hundley. Fireworks generate a noise level higher than the noise from gunshots (140 decibels) and low-level flying jets (100 decibels). “Irreversible ear damage, such as tinnitus and loss of hearing in humans starts at the 80-decibel range, so the impact that it has on animals is not surprising,” says Hundley.
Although fireworks are very pleasing on the eye, the negative effects far out way their beauty. Apart from the emotional distress caused, fireworks also produce light, noise and air pollution, and their often discarded remains contribute to an already serious litter problem. Furthermore, the contamination of our environment, caused by poisonous chemicals and particle-laden smoke released with the explosion, has far reaching effects. “The effects of fireworks are experienced not only by our domestic animals, but also by wildlife near and downwind to the area of explosion,” notes Hundley.
Hundley recommends taking special care of pets during this time. “Precautionary measures can be taken to make this time easier on your pets. Keep them securely indoors, with sufficient food and water. Stay with them, providing comfort and love and, if they’re up to it, try playing games with them to make it a more positive experience. Playing soothing music, making use of a ThunderShirt or administering calming medication (ask your vet for advice) can also assist in managing these otherwise stressful situations,” Hundley concludes.
Remember that a traumatized animal is unpredictable, so request the help of a professional should you wish to aid an animal in distress.