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
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
“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
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
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.“