Prioritise animal welfare over entertainment this Guy Fawkes’ weekend

Published on 1 November 2023.

The public sale of fireworks is again being called into question as veterinarians, animal welfare organisations, and pet owners brace for the impact of fireworks displays this week.

The New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) is advocating for a ban on the sale of fireworks to the public; to allow sales only to licensed individuals and organisations for responsible use in public areas; and for displays to be approved by territorial authorities. While the sale of fireworks is currently limited to the three days prior to Guy Fawkes Night on 5 November, there is no limit to when fireworks can be detonated, creating a huge challenge for animal welfare which lasts much longer than one evening. In New Zealand, only those aged over 18 years can buy fireworks between 2 and 5 November.

Every year, veterinarians respond to trauma cases where animals have been injured attempting to flee loud and unpredictable bangs. Anxiety and stress can also become incredibly distressing, and reports of missing pets also increases.

NZVA Head of Veterinary Services (Companion Animals) Sally Cory said the most frequent cases seen by veterinarians are companion animals becoming frightened and escaping from properties. “Sadly, this places them at increased risk of being hit by a car or going missing,” she said. “I’ve even seen dogs run through glass doors to escape, and horses are frequently in the news for running into fences, sometimes causing irreversible trauma to their limbs. We know there are also negative impacts on wildlife and marine mammals.”

For dogs, in particular, the stress and anxiety caused by fireworks can become debilitating. These effects may increase with repeated exposure. “Managing anxiety relating to fireworks is complex, challenging, and not always effective,” Sally said. “It requires time and planning. Many strategies to manage anxiety, such as desensitisation programmes and medication, require a lead-time which is difficult due to the sporadic nature of fireworks.”

Sally advises pet owners to ensure companion animals are microchipped, registered and kept safely indoors during fireworks displays. Where possible, lifestyle and farm animals should be in a well fenced and secure location. If an option, horses should be kept in secure stables. All animals should be checked on regularly.

Tips for keeping animals safe this Guy Fawkes:

  • Research public displays - To help you prepare, check your council’s website and social media channels to find out where public displays will be held.
  • Keep pets indoors - Keep the curtains and windows closed and provide your pet with a comforting place to hide if they get scared and need a safe retreat.
  • Keep farm animals and horses safe - Make sure animals are safe and secure in an area away from any potential fireworks’ risks. Secure fences and place horses in stables if you can.
  • Check on animals regularly - If there are fireworks going off in your area, check on your pets, whether they are inside, outside, and/or in a paddock or stable.
  • Keep your vet’s contact details handy - Make sure you know how to contact your vet or local emergency services clinic, if required.
  • Microchip – Ensuring your pet is microchipped and registered on the national microchip database is essential if your animal was to go missing, or is brought into a veterinary clinic.
  • Injured wildlife - If you come across an injured bird or other animal, contact your local SPCA or vet clinic.
  • Be careful when settling frightened animals – Your safety is important too! If animals are distressed, they could react in uncharacteristic ways. Please use caution when handling or settling frightened animals.