Fireworks: A Clear and Present Danger to Animals


Holidays, while celebrated by people, are never celebrated by animals. Whether it’s Halloween, New Year’s Eve or Canada Day, they mean only one thing: fireworks. Or simply put: NOISE!!!

Whether sudden, intermittent bursts of noise and light or ongoing displays of sophisticated pyrotechnics, their effects can range from devastating to deadly for domesticated animals and wildlife alike. From cherished family cats and dogs to bears and birds, Canada geese, coyotes and deer, raccoons and wolves.

The main source of their extreme discomfort is the deafening blasts emitted by the fireworks. And since most animals’ hearing is far more acute than humans (we can suffer hearing damage at only 75 decibels), with “explosions” as loud as 190 decibels, not only is the sound magnified, but the affected animals don’t even know the source of it.

Dogs, for example, can become so anxious that in an effort to get away from the sound will break out of kennels and jump through windows, chew through and dig their way out from underneath fences. Not only are they seriously injured in the process, but once loose on the street, they can all too easily be hit by cars. In fact, American shelters report that the day after Independence Day is their busiest because of all the runaway dogs, terrified and confused by the noise.

“This decibel level causes an assault to the animals’ central nervous systems and brains akin to a sonic boom used to disorient and disable human enemies in warfare,” explains Stephanie L. Prewitt, canine behaviourist, master dog trainer and dog psychology expert.

“It triggers a biochemical response in their bodies releasing a flood of the arousal/excitement/stress/fear hormones testosterone, adrenaline and cortisol. This cocktail of hormones increases their heart rate, raises their blood pressure and sends a message to their brains that a life-threatening danger is present. The result? They exhibit one or more of the following behaviours: flight, fight, freeze or submit.

“Flight: desperately trying to flee the noise source; fight: standing their ground and responding (from meowing and barking to howling and shrilling) in the direction of the noise; freeze: going into shock and being unable to move, and submit: collapsing to the ground. In extreme cases, some animals, even cats, may suffer seizures or heart attacks.

“While each animal’s response depends on that animal’s genetics and environmental influences (life experience), ALL of them suffer traumatic stress injury. Whether they’re domesticated animals or animals in the wild, some may simply internalize the stress. This, in turn, can have a devastating impact on their physiology and psychology in the form of physical disease and post traumatic stress disorders. Sadly, these effects are cumulative and are only compounded by each subsequent firework event.”

Because fireworks are essentially chemical cocktails, comprised of gunpowder, metal salts and oxidizers, they expose both humans and animals to toxic chemicals from the smoke upon combustion. Some of these substances can linger in the environment and find their way into our water supplies. Not only does this have negative implications for us, but it causes dire problems for wildlife by polluting the lakes, ponds and streams they depend on for their own water.

In an effort to minimize the negative effects on both domesticated animals and those in the wild, an increasing number of towns and cities have been switching to quiet or “low-noise” fireworks. Quiet fireworks use more black powder as opposed to metallic powder, the package is wrapped more loosely, and they are actually more colourful than regular ones. 

Article by Nomi Berger. Nomi is the bestselling author of seven novels, one work of non-fiction, two volumes of poetry, and hundreds of articles. She lives in Toronto with her adopted Maltese, Mini, and has been writing as a volunteer for animal rescue groups in Canada and the U.S.A. since 2013.