- Almost half of dog owners said that their dog was afraid of loud noises, according to a 2013 study.
- Fireworks can trigger your dog's fight or flight response, which may cause them to run and hide.
- Your dog may be more scared if they are older, female, neutered, or cross-bred.
While many people enjoy fireworks on holidays like the fourth of July, the experience isn't so pleasant for some dogs.
In fact, in a 2013 study, researchers found that almost half of the dog owners they interviewed reported that their dog was afraid of loud noises. Fireworks were the most common culprit, followed by gunshots and thunder.
Although you can't necessarily protect them from fireworks, understanding why they're scared may help you better empathize with them.
Why are dogs scared of fireworks?
"Fireworks create loud and unfamiliar noises that the dog does not understand, and they perceive them as signs of danger," says Dr. Gary Richter, a veterinarian with Rover.
These sounds may trigger a dog's fight-or-flight response –– particularly the "flight" portion. Richter says there's nothing to fight against since there's no visible danger, so instead, their response is to run or hide.
Sadly, this is why July 5th tends to be one of the busiest days of the year for animal shelters, and there's a reported 30% increase of lost pets annually in the days following July 4th.
As humans, we can predict that on or around holidays like July 4th, we can expect to hear fireworks, but dogs don't have the ability to keep this kind of mental calendar, says Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, a senior veterinarian at the Schwarzman Animal Medical Center. This makes fireworks extremely unexpected and unpredictable for dogs, resulting in even more fear.
Since fireworks may occur on the days leading up to or following a holiday, Hohenhaus says if your dog is acting anxious on these days, you can likely assume that fireworks are happening somewhere nearby that your dog can hear, but you can't.
Some telltale signs that your dog is anxious include:
- Loss of appetite
- Having accidents in the house
- Attempting to run or hide
- Inability to relax or get settled
"Most people know when their dog is not relaxed just from what they know is normal behavior for the individual," Richter says.
Why are some dogs more scared of fireworks than others?
Just like how some people have higher levels of anxiety, some dogs tend to be more anxious than others.
"It's more of a personality trait. Some dogs are more easily spooked than others," Richter says.
However, in addition to personality, research has found some additional risk factors:
- They're cross-bred: A 2013 study found that if your dog is cross-bred they might be more likely to be afraid of fireworks than "gundog breeds" such as Labradors, Cocker Spaniels, and Springer Spaniels.
- They're older: The same 2013 study found that fear risk increased with age.
- They're female: A 2015 study found that female dogs were more likely to be sensitive to noises than male dogs.
- They're neutered: The same 2015 study found neutered dogs to be more fearful than dogs who weren't neutered.
Do fireworks hurt dogs' ears?
It's difficult to study how fireworks affect dogs' long-term hearing, therefore veterinarians aren't completely sure whether or not fireworks hurt dogs' ears.
However, Hohenhaus says the noise output of fireworks is around 150 decibels (depending on how close you are to them). If you're further away from the fireworks, they'll be at a lower decibel level.
Hearing loss in humans can occur due to sounds quieter than that, depending on how long you're exposed to them. But according to the CDC, it's possible to experience immediate damage from sounds of 120 decibels.
Dogs' ears are more sensitive than human ears, so it is possible that these loud noises could affect dogs' hearing.
The main reason why dogs are scared of fireworks is that they're loud and unpredictable, and they can't identify the sound and know if it's a real danger or not.
If your dog is scared of fireworks, get ready to be there for them. Hohenhaus stresses the importance of putting your dog in a collar with identification and having their microchip up to date in case they run away.
The key is being prepared to keep your dog safe and secure when they need you the most.
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