Sale and use of fireworks
Policy type: Position statement
Date ratified: November 2019
The NZVA believes that to protect animals from direct and indirect harm caused by fireworks, the sale of fireworks to the public should be banned, and licensing arrangements should be instituted for individuals or organisations to responsibly detonate fireworks in public displays approved by the relevant territorial authority.
New Zealand’s Animal Welfare Act 1999 acknowledges that animals are sentient beings. The NZVA believes that ‘sentience’ is the ability to feel, perceive or experience subjectively, i.e. the animal can experience positive and negative emotions (NZVA, 2018).
Fireworks cause physical injury, fear, and anxiety in a subset of animals (Blackwell et al., 2013; Dale et al., 2010; Gates et al., 2019; Gronqvist et al., 2016; Riemer, 2019). The NZVA believes that as a society we all have a responsibility to ensure that both the physical and mental harm to animals, including the harm caused by fireworks, is minimised. A ban on the sale of fireworks to the public, and licensing for public displays, is thus consistent with the NZVA view and with New Zealand’s animal welfare legislation.
The harm to animals caused by fireworks is not limited to Guy Fawkes night. Although the public sale of fireworks in New Zealand is restricted to the three days leading up to November 5th, there are no limits on the days of the year that fireworks can be used. Consequently, animal harm due to fireworks is a sporadic issue throughout the year due to stockpiling and erratic use.
This sporadic use of fireworks makes effective management of susceptible animals difficult. Owners cannot reliably plan when they will need to safely confine pets, or have to relocate animals further from sites of fireworks use. Many fireworks management strategies need an appropriate lead-in time to be effective (e.g. desensitisation programmes require weeks; administration of some medications needs to occur before the event onset for good efficacy), and this is difficult to achieve when the use of fireworks is unpredictable.
While the NZVA understands that some people enjoy having private displays, it is the role of veterinarians to advocate for what is in the best interests of animals in New Zealand. We believe it is important that there are appropriate controls in place to minimise the impact on all animals, including wildlife.
Fireworks are known to trigger fear and anxiety in animals, likely due to the unpredictability of their release, and the high noise intensity (Gates et al., 2019). In experimental settings, the consequences of animals being exposed to unpredictable, high intensity noise stimuli (e.g. recordings of fireworks or thunder) include increased cortisol levels, and behavioural changes indicative of fear and anxiety (Beerda et al., 1997;, de Souza et al., 2017; Young et al., 2012)). Behaviours considered to indicate fear and anxiety in dogs and cats include trembling/shaking, vocalising, hiding, attempting to escape (e.g. Blackwell et al., 2013; Dale et al., 2010), whilst in horses behaviours such as running, trembling, sweating and fence-walking are seen (Gronqvist et al., 2016).
New Zealand animal owners report signs of fear and anxiety due to fireworks in 46 - 79% of their animals (Dale et al., 2010; Gates et al., 2019; Gronqvist et al., 2016). International studies show similar trends, with 50 - 60% of dog owners reporting fear of fireworks in their pets (Blackwell et al., 2013; Riemer, 2019). Behavioural responses to fireworks often outlast the period of fireworks release, with more than 20% of animals exhibiting behavioural changes for between one day and one week after exposure to fireworks (Gates et al., 2019; Riemer, 2019). The duration of an animal’s behavioural response to fireworks is also correlated with the intensity of its observed fear response (Dale et al., 2010). Animals may become sensitised to fireworks at a young age; 45% of dog owners reported that their pet exhibited fireworks fear by one year of age (Riemer, 2019). There is also a tendency for the problem to worsen over time, with 27 – 35% of owners reporting an increased fear of fireworks in pets as they aged (Dale et al., 2010; Riemer, 2019), and dogs over the age of 10 years reacting more fearfully to fireworks than dogs under 10 years of age (Dale et al., 2010).
The reported prevalence of New Zealand animals suffering physical harm due to fireworks varies from 2% to 25% (Dale et al., 2010; Gates et al., 2019; Gronqvist et al., 2016). Of those animals that were injured, an average of 12.5% died, due either to the sustained trauma, or subsequent euthanasia (Dale et al., 2010; Gates et al., 2019). Fireworks result in physical injuries indirectly (e.g. escape behaviours resulting in cats/dogs running onto the road and oncoming traffic, or horses running through fences), or directly, because of either accidental or deliberate misuse (Dale et al., 2010; Gates et al., 2019; Gronqvist et al., 2016). Surveys of animal owners indicate that between 4.9% - 13% of physical injuries to animals were due to the deliberate misuse of fireworks (Dale et al., 2010; Gates et al., 2019).
New Zealand animal owners have reported trying many different management strategies in an effort to help their animals cope with the stress of fireworks. Such strategies include confinement (in the case of small animals), moving animals to another paddock/property (in the case of horses), sound desensitisation programmes, pheromone therapy, natural or homeopathic remedies, or administering prescription medications, such as sedatives or anxiolytic drugs (Dale et al., 2010; Gates et al., 2019; Gronqvist et al., 2016). However, these approaches are often considered ineffective by owners; 37% of horse owners reported that moving their horse to another paddock was ineffective, with 9% of owners who had used sedation reporting it as ineffective (Gronqvist et al., 2016); of the 15.8% companion animal owners who sought advice from trained professionals, most considered all forms of management as either not effective, or only mildly effective (Dale et al., 2010). Thus, relying currently available management options for fireworks fear in animals is an insufficient approach that leaves many animals vulnerable to the stress and anxiety caused by fireworks.
Sporadic use contributes to the difficulty in managing fireworks phobia and anxiety. In a survey of horse owners, 26% reported the duration of fireworks use as being two months or more after the celebration of Guy Fawkes night (Gronqvist et al., 2016).
Impacts on Wildlife
The impact of fireworks on wildlife is also a recognised issue, although currently there is no data quantifying the effects on New Zealand fauna. However, international studies demonstrate that fireworks result in major disruption to wild bird populations, causing them to take flight in large numbers and fly at much higher altitudes than normal daily local movements (Shamoun-Baranes et al, 2011). Similar disruptions have been reported in marine mammals, with 50% of a breeding sea lion colony leaving the area due to the release of New Year’s fireworks, and population numbers taking two days to return to those seen before the fireworks (Pedreros et al., 2016). Although the long term implications these disruptions might have on wildlife populations remains unclear, it is theorised that consequences might include disruption to resting or foraging patterns, disorientation, or the interruption/cessation of breeding, nesting or parental care behaviours (Pedreros et al., 2016; Shamoun-Baranes et al, 2011).
Evidence indicates that fireworks causes stress, fear and anxiety in a proportion of animals; this represents a significant welfare impost, in terms of the number of animals affected, and the potential duration of effect experienced by some. Current management strategies available for use in companion animals and horses often fail to alleviate the affected animals’ distress. Furthermore, the impacts on wildlife, although largely unknown, must be considered, especially if fireworks are being used near areas of ecological significance. Current New Zealand legislation around the sale and use of fireworks results in year-round, sporadic exposure of animals to fireworks, making mitigation of animal harm (both physical and psychological ) due to fireworks extremely challenging.
- Sales of fireworks to the general public should be legislated against.
- Where organised public displays are to be held, the local community should be given sufficient notice of the event, to allow time for owners to plan how they will best manage their animals to minimise the effects of exposure to fireworks.
- Territorial authorities should not allow fireworks displays near sensitive wildlife areas.
Beerda, B., Schilder, M., van Hooff, J., & de Vries, H. (1997). Manifestation of chronic and acute stress in dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 52, 307-319.
Blackwell, E., Bradshaw, J., & Casey, R. (2013). Fear responses to noises in domestic dogs: Prevalence, risk factors and co-occurrence with other fear related behaviour. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 145, 15-25.
Dale, A., Walker, J., Farnworth, M., Morissey, S., & Waran, N. (2010). A survey of owners'perceptions of fear of fireworks ina sample of dogs and cats in New Zealand. New Zealand Veterinary Journal, 58, 286-291.
de Souza, C., Maccariello, C., Dias, D., Almeida, N., & de Medeiros, M. (2017). Autonomic, endocrine and behavioural responses to thunder in laboratory and companion dogs. Physiology & Behavior, 169, 208-215.
Gates, M., Zito, S., Walker, J., & Dale, A. (2019). owner perceptions and management of the adverse behavioural effects of fireworks on compakon animals: an update. New Zealand Veterinary Journal, 67, 323-328.
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NZVA. (2018). Position Statement: Sentience.
Pedreros, E., Sepulveda, M., Gutierrez, J., Carrasco, P., & Quinones, R. (2016). Observations fof the ffect of a New Year's fireworks display on the behavior of the South American sea lion (Otaria flavescens) in a colony of central-south Chile. Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology, 49, 127-131.
Riemer, S. (2019). Not a one-way road - Severity, progression and prevention of firework fears in dogs. PLOS ONE, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0218150.
Shamoun-Baranes, J., Dokter, A., van Gasteren, H., van Loon, E., Leijnse, H., & Bouten, W. (2011). Birds flee en mass from New Year's Eve fireworks. Behavioral Ecology, 22, 1173-1177.
Young, T., Creighton, E., Smith, T., & Hosie, C. (2012). A novel scale of behavioural indicators of stress for use with domestic horses. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 140, 33-43.