New Year's Eve is one of the best nights on the calendar. All the rush, rush, rush of Christmas finally dies down, which gives us a night off to say "see ya" to the old year and herald in a sparkly new one. Fireworks are pretty much the default NYE celebration – which is great, because who doesn't love a good fireworks display, right? Well, it turns out that our pets aren't big fans of anything that goes boom.
That's the thing about fireworks and the other sounds of festive season celebrations: we humans know what to expect. We know that there will be fireworks and that they'll be loud. We know that the kids will be screaming as they chase each other around the yard. We know that someone will pull out the party poppers or pull a cork on a bottle of bubbles. We know the sounds that are associated with New Year's Eve – but our pets don't. To them, these noises come out of the blue and they are terrifying.
Pets startled by these loud noises can develop significant issues that may have a long-term effect on their behaviour. Veterinarian Dr Karen Davies says that when pets are afraid of fireworks (and other loud noises) it has an impact on them in many ways. "Fears and phobias in response to fireworks through the 'Silly Season' can result in a range of behaviours including timidity, aggression, barking and destructive behaviours, and even self-harm or attacks on people," she says.
Fireworks phobia is scary for pets. When the phobia is triggered the pet will do anything they can to get away from the noise. "We have had dogs chew through plaster walls and destroy doors and window frames in an effort to get away from the cause of the fear," says Dr Davies. "Others cower, shake, looking for somewhere to hide or bark constantly, and some will develop such anxious behaviours that they end up with stomach churning, vomiting and diarrhoea, which is not something that party goers want to deal with during their festivities."
Tips for keeping your pet calm
If there are fireworks in your area on New Year's Eve, follow these steps to create a safe zone for your pet.
There are fireworks displays all around the country on New Year's Eve and chances are you'll be within earshot of one. These events are advertised in local papers, on television and local council websites. If you're not going to be home on the scheduled night, plan ahead: pop the date in your calendar and set a reminder so you have plenty of time to prepare your home.
Keep your pets inside
If your outside dog is afraid of loud noises, the simplest thing is to bring her inside. Prepare a safe spot for her in the laundry or garage. Fireworks-phobic dogs can injure themselves when they try to escape.
Create a safe haven
Create a cosy space for your pet to stay a few hours in. Close all the doors and windows and bring in some of your pet's favourite food and toys. Dr Davies suggests using sound or white noise too: "Play background noise such as music or white noise (available as phone apps) which can help to 'drown out' the trigger noises."
Secure the environment
If you can't bring your dog inside, ensure your yard is secure. Check to make sure he can't get over or under fences or gates. Even if your dog has no history of fireworks phobia, all it takes is one bad experience. A distressed dog may injure himself trying to escape the noise, and once he leaves your property you can't control him or keep him safe.
Consider medical intervention
While it is possible to sedate severely phobic animals in the short term, Dr Davies suggests considering a longer-term strategy for managing reactions to loud noises like fireworks, thunder and lightning. Your vet may suggest treatments including desensitisation and counter-conditioning, pheromones or an anti-anxiety garment called a thundershirt. Many dog and cat owners choose the desensitisation route. Desensitisation or counter-conditioning involves the use of a recorded noise of the trigger events. "The pet is gradually exposed to pre-recorded sounds of thunderstorms, or fireworks, in a controlled way in an effort to reduce overall fears," says Dr Davies. "It is essential that this program is under the advice of a veterinarian or experienced behaviourist as incorrect use can amplify the fears and increase the undesirable behaviours."
Check your registration and microchip
New Year's Day is a busy one for pounds and shelters. Hundreds of dogs go missing from backyards each year and some can't be reunited with their families because their contact details are not current. Keeping your details up to date is simple: just visit the Pet Address website and enter your microchip number. Not sure of your number? Contact your veterinarian, council or animal welfare shelter. They can scan your pet and give you the number.
We love our pets and they look to us to protect them and keep them safe. If you live within earshot of a party hot spot, put your fireworks plan into action and make this New Year's Eve enjoyable for the whole family.