Fireworks can be very stressful for dogs, especially around peak celebrations like the 4th of July in America and Bonfire Night in the UK. For the few days surrounding these dates, people in your neighborhood may be setting off their own firework displays or setting off loud rockets.
The frightening bangs from fireworks can scare some dogs and cause them a large amount of stress. However, while it can be very distressing, can dogs die from the stress caused by fireworks?
Can dogs die from the stress of fireworks? While it is unlikely that your dog will die from the stress of fireworks, the stress caused from being scared, particularly in more anxious dogs, can add to their chronic stress which can potentially trigger other health issues.
But what can you do to help your dog around firework celebrations? How does anxiety and stress trigger health issues? and how can you tell whether or not your dog is becoming stressed and scared because of the noise?
Can dogs die from being scared of fireworks?
While some dogs aren’t phased by fireworks, it has been found that over 40% of pet owners in the UK report that their dogs are afraid of them (source: RSPCA.org.uk), which is around 3.6 million dogs in total.
However, while many have called for tighter restrictions on fireworks or making silent fireworks more readily available, the loud bangs from home-made displays probably won’t stop anytime soon.
But, while seeing your dog distressed and scared of the noise of fireworks will be upsetting, can your dog actually die from the stress that fireworks cause them?
I wanted to look into this a little bit deeper to see if I could find any reports in the media about dogs that die from being scared of fireworks.
What the media says
While stories of people losing dogs usually crop up in tabloids and websites around firework celebrations such as Independence Day and Bonfire Night, whether or not a dog can actually die because of fireworks alone is still not exactly a cut and dry case.
As mentioned above, if your dog is already prone to anxiety and heart-related conditions, fireworks can potentially pose more of a risk to their health; as it is also for older dogs and puppies.
However, while it may seem that your dog is scared to death, they are more likely to injure themselves trying to hide, run or escape from the noise rather than the stress of the fireworks itself.
How to keep your dog calm during fireworks
While some dogs and other animals may not be too bothered by fireworks and won’t be at all scared or stressed, some find it an incredibly distressing experience.
If you have found that your dog finds firework displays around the 4th of July, Bonfire Night or other celebrations to be stressful, there are many ways that dog owners have found to relieve stress and distract your dog from focusing on the noise outside.
Read these tips to help reduce how scared of fireworks your dog will be the next time around.
1. Take them for a walk
Before any fireworks start, take your dog on a long walk to tire them out and burn off a lot of their excess energy. Taking your dog for a walk once the fireworks have started can cause them even more stress, as they are away from the safety of home.
You may have to reorganise your schedule around certain holidays where fireworks are commonly set off, taking them for a walk when it is still light outside.
Taking them on a walk before it starts to get dark will mean that you are less likely to run into any fireworks going off when you are outside, with most people waiting until it gets dark to fully appreciate the effect of a firework.
2. Act naturally
Dogs are incredibly perceptive creatures, being able to recognise your emotions and reacting accordingly. You may have noticed that your dog will react when you are feeling sad and will likewise recognise when you are feeling stressed. They may even pick up on your anxiety of them being anxious, creating a paradox of stress that can even make it worse!
When fireworks are being set off, act as you normally would. Ignore the fireworks and act as if they are not happening, and this will send a message to your dog that they shouldn’t be worried or scared about the loud bangs.
Make sure that your dog is in a familiar environment, at home around people that they know. Don’t make your dog feel trapped in a room as this can make them more anxious, and if your dog takes itself away to hide it is best to leave it alone.
Check on them periodically if they have hidden underneath some furniture, but don’t forcefully take them out of their hiding place as this can make them more stressed and can even make them aggressive and defensive out of fear.
3. Make your dog feel safe
Before fireworks are due to be set off, close any doors and windows and help muffle the sound and hide the flashing lights by drawing the curtains and blinds.
Some pet owners have found that background noise, such as from the television, radio or personal playlist helps to mask the sound of the bangs from outside, with certain websites and streaming platforms having playlists of ambient and white noise specifically for these kinds of situations.
Give your dog a good distraction such as a new toy or their favourite comfort item, as well as playing with them or giving them a puzzle toy that will keep them busy and distracted from focussing on the firework noises outside.
You can even buy or make your own dog den, with blankets and cushions that allows them to burrow and hide away if they find the noise of the fireworks is getting too much for them.
This can help stop your dog from hiding in other areas, such as your bed or under furniture, so you know exactly where your dog is and that they are safe.
4. Try a Thundershirt
It is calming wrap that is aimed at helping dogs that suffer with feelings of anxiety and fearfulness. It is designed to make dogs feel safer or calmer by applying gentle pressure to their midsections. You can see how they work on Amazon.
The ThunderShirt is said to provide dogs with a similar feeling of security and comfort as a baby feels when swaddled in its blankets.
Can a dog have a heart attack from being scared of fireworks?
This is usually the main cause cited in stories of dogs dying because of fireworks, with their hearts giving out because of the stress and panic.
Heart attacks can happen for many different reasons and can often come down to breed and their breeding history; for instance, bulldogs and other overbred dogs can be more at risk of heart related conditions such as heart disease.
However, heart attacks can occur in any breed.
People who have reported that their dog has died of a heart attack triggered by firework stress often have puppies, older dogs or dogs with pre-existing heart conditions.
Don’t worry too much though; heart attacks in dogs are incredibly rare and if you are concerned about the possibility of your dog suffering from a heart attack then it is best recommended that you speak to your vet about treatment and prevention.
Signs of a heart attacks in your dog
If you are worried about your dog potentially suffering from a heart attack due to being scared of fireworks or are aware that they have a pre-existing condition that could leave them more prone to heart attacks, then it is important that you recognise the symptoms.
Heart attacks, while rare, need immediate emergency medical attention and if left can prove fatal.
Heart attacks are usually caused by blood clots, tumours, inflamed blood vessels or plaque build-up blocking the flow of blood in or out of the heart; however, they can also be caused by hypothyroidism and nephrotic syndrome (caused by damage to the kidneys).
Sudden heart attacks caused by stress of fireworks, while they have been reported, are extremely rare and usually are triggered by other underlying conditions.
If you think your dog is having a heart attack, do not attempt CPR and call your vet immediately, who will be able to talk you through what to do.
The symptoms of a heart attack in dogs can include:
- Vomiting and nausea: Do not attempt to feed or water your dog if you believe they are suffering from a heart attack, as this can cause vomiting and can also clog up airways, leading to asphyxiation.
- Fever: A body temperature of over 103° Fahrenheit/39.4° Celsius, as well as shaking
- Collapse: If your dog collapses, immediately seek medical attention. Even if it is not a heart attack, there could be a number of other reasons for their collapse.
- Tilting their head: A common sign of a stroke in dogs.
- Increased heart rate: A heartrate of over 100 beats per minute, or over 140bpm for smaller breeds, can be a sign of a heart attack.
- Anxiety: Your dog may be acting out of the ordinary, being snappy or aggressive. While this isn’t a sure sign of a heart attack on its own, it can accompany the other listed symptoms.
- Unable to move around: Your dog may be more rigid or lethargic than normal, finding it difficult to walk or walking in an abnormal gait. This is especially noticeable in dogs that are usually very energetic and interested in walks.
If you notice more than one of these symptoms, carefully wrap your pet in a blanket to keep them calm and then immediately call your vet.
CPR can prove dangerous to dogs if the person attempting it is unsure of the correct procedure, so wait until you have a professional on the scene or talking you through it.
When a dog is in distress when being scared of fireworks, they can become snappy and aggressive as a defence mechanism. With this in mind, keep any young children or other animals away from them to avoid biting and also decrease the dog’s stress levels.
Do anxious dogs die younger?
A recent study (see source) by vet and animal behaviour expert, Nancy Dreschel, from Penn State University, found that dogs that were more prone to being afraid of strangers typically died six months earlier than dogs that didn’t have much stranger-directed fear.
Other, non-social fears such as anxiety over noise, unfamiliar objects, new situations and storms, did not affect the dog’s lifespan, but did lead to more skin conditions developed in later life.
However, early socialisation when a dog is still a puppy or relatively young can help prevent any major anxieties around strangers and other dogs. Dogs who are introduced to people early on in their lives and learn to trust humans are far less likely to be overly anxious around strangers.
But if you do have an older dog who is wary or stressed around strangers, you can help them unlearn this fear so that they become far more comfortable in unfamiliar situations.
If you have an anxious dog, talk to your vet about ways to help calm them down and potential ways to help keep their stress levels down in situations that would normally cause them distress.
What are signs of stress in a dog?
During and after a fireworks display is the prime time you will see stress in your dog. Whilst it’s unlikely your dog will die from the stress of fireworks; they could be affected for a long period afterwards… sometimes the anxiety can last for weeks.
Here are signs of stress in a dog to look out for.
- Shaking and trembling: A very noticeable symptom that is shared by many animals, as well as people. Shaking is caused by a surge of adrenaline, preparing the body to either run away or fight, often called the ‘fight or flight response’. Dogs and other animals can shiver, tremble and become very restless because of this.
- Barking and whining: Dogs vocalise to alert us of danger or to get our attention, and barking and whining is often a sign that they feel that they are in a dangerous situation. Barking is also a way of relieving stress. Don’t discipline your dog if they are barking because of stress or anxiety, instead focussing on positive reinforcement and making them feel safer in their environment.
- Cowering under and behind furniture: A very common symptom, anxious dogs will often try and burrow underneath furniture, pillows, blankets or other things to try and escape and hide from potential dangers. They may even try and hide under decking or in foliage if they are outside. Beds, blankets and other soft furnishings are often places they like to hide, being warm as well as dark.
- Yawning: A more subtle sign, when your dog yawns it can be because of stress, fear or even anticipating excitement. If your dog is yawning excessively or is yawning in a situation they are typically stressed in, such as a vet’s office, then it can be a sign that they are nervous.
- Licking: Licking is a common nervous habit for dogs, either licking objects, parts of furniture of even themselves. Licking obsessively can actually cause damage, especially if they are licking themselves, with the skin becoming irritated and saliva stains appearing on their fur.
- Shedding: While all dogs shed, if you are noticing that your dog is losing their hair at an increased rate then it could be a sign of stress or of another underlying condition. Speak to your vet if you are concerned.
- Pacing and panting: Because of the increased levels of adrenaline triggered by anxiety, your dog may be finding other ways or burning it off, by panting and pacing around the house.
- Loss of appetite: Being off their food can be a sign of many different issues, from illness to stress.
- Destructive behavior: As with the panting and pacing, your dog may try and burn off the rest of its nervous energy and adrenaline by biting, chewing or destroying items around your house. If you are noticing your dog becoming restless, try and find another way for them to burn off the energy, such as taking them on a longer walk, give them a new toy or take them out of the situation that they may be finding stressful.
It is unlikely that your dog will die from the stress of fireworks, but it could trigger an existing health issue that could be fatal. Please be prepared and have a plan in place to keep your dog calm and stress-free during this time of year.
There is nothing worse than your dog being scared of fireworks, but by following the tips above you should be able to reduce their anxiety significantly.