While fireworks are an enjoyable part of New Year’s Eve, they often cause panic, fear, and distress in animals, resulting in anxious and sometimes destructive behaviours or escapes. RSPCA Victoria is urging all pet owners to prepare ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations to ensure their pets are happy and safe.
The most important thing responsible pet owners can do ahead of this year’s fireworks displays is to ensure their pets are microchipped and that the linked contact details are kept up to date. This means that if a lost pet enters a shelter or pound, it can be quickly identified and returned to its owner.
Recognising signs of anxious behaviour in animals is the first step responsible pet owners can take to keep their pets safe. Animals express fear differently, including destructive behaviour, cowering, drooling, shaking and escape, including fleeing home. A fearful animal can cause severe injuries to themselves and others while trying to escape a potentially frightening situation, so it is critical that owners take appropriate steps to keep animals safe and calm.
Owners can help minimise their pet’s stress and anxious behaviours during celebrations by providing a safe space where the animal can retreat if needed. The safe space can range in size from an entire room to a large box with a blanket draped overtop to help reduce outside noises. Dimming lights, closing blinds and windows, and turning down loud music or movies can also help pets feel calm and safe. Providing them with treats or other enrichment toys to keep them occupied during fireworks can also be a welcome distraction.
Providing pets with enrichment can keep their minds busy and may help to distract them if they are anxious during fireworks or loud music. Items such as treat balls, snuffle mats, raw bones, and other long-lasting treats are all items that can help calm or distract an anxious pet. Taking dogs for a long walk or run earlier in the day can burn off excess energy, meaning they are more likely to rest during the evening and less likely to be over-stimulated. An extended play session and other stimulating activities can help pets expend energy and be more likely to rest.
Gates, fences, and doors should also be checked to find and fix any gaps or weaknesses that a panicked animal can use for escape. If pets live outdoors, bring them indoors where possible, or make sure they have a cosy shelter or quiet space to retreat. RSPCA Victoria strongly urges owners never to use devices such as pronged, pinch or slip collars or choker chains, particularly due to the risk that the animal will harm themself while wearing them.