Firework Noise and Dogs
Updated: Nov 12, 2020
A quiet night in
Whilst a lot of local authorities in the UK (Cheshire East, Wales, Harrow) are advising people to stay indoors on fireworks night due to Covid-19, there will still be plenty of fireworks being set off around the country. This means there will be a lot of scared pets at home (and a lot of stressed pet owners). One of the more sensitive to loud noises are dogs. Let’s look at why this is the case:
A dogs' hearing range is between 67 and 45,000Hz. This varies to human hearing which ranges from 20 to 20,000Hz. Above 20kHz the frequencies are considered ultrasonic sound.
Between a frequency of 3,000 and 12,000Hz dogs’ hearing is far more sensitive than ours.
Above 12,000 Hz, dogs’ hearing sensitivity is so much more acute than a humans’ hearing that a comparison becomes pointless.
Fireworks and Dogs
Purina provides some guidance on this:
Loudness - Most fireworks make some kind of loud sound. Dogs have a more acute sense of hearing than humans, so those loud booms, crackles and whistles are alarming.
Unpredictability - A dog has no sense of when specific events that usually include fireworks are going to occur. They come without warning. The loud noises and flashing lights sound and look different each time. They also occur at different intervals, so dogs cannot adjust to them.
They pose a Threat - The noise and unpredictability of fireworks leads many dogs to perceive them as a threat. This triggers their fight-or-flight response. A dog may bark at the noises or try to run away and hide. They also may show other signs of anxiety, like restlessness, panting, pacing and whining.
Fireworks Make Dogs Feel Trapped - Fireworks are inescapable during special events like Fireworks Night. If the noises trigger a dog’s flight response, they will try to run from the threat. Unfortunately, there’s often nowhere to go, as you can still hear those loud booms indoors.
In the UK, firework legislation is covered by The Fireworks Regulations 2004 (under powers delegated from the Fireworks Act 2003), the Pyrotechnic Articles (Safety) Regulations 2015, and British Standards BS 7114 until 4/7/17, BS-EN 15947-2015 and BS EN 14035. IEC-61672:2013 is also used as a reference.
Regulation 8 of The Fireworks Regulations 2004 prohibits the supply to the public of category F3 fireworks whose noise levels exceed 120 decibels dB (AI). For an idea of how loud this is, a Live rock band plays at around 130dB and pain can be experienced at 120dB (depending on how long you are exposed to the noise)
The main types of firework available are covered by BS EN 14035 which states that "When tested in accordance with 9.3, a category 3 mine or rocket shall produce a maximum A-weighted impulse sound pressure level (LAImax) of not higher than 120 dB(AI) at a horizontal distance of 15m from the testing point and at a height of 1m above the ground." (BSI, 2004)
Human VS Dog Hearing
The threshold of hearing for humans and dogs varies. There are also intrinsic difficulties with measuring how a dog reacts to each frequency during a (threshold) test. The diagram on the right shows how difference in sensitivity to certain frequencies between some animals and humans. The higher frequencies are clearly an issue. For example, when a dog hears the whizz or whistle made by many fireworks this would be much more disturbing for them than humans. It's also important to remember that fireworks are very varied in the noise they produce, from low frequency bangs and booms to high frequency screams. Once a dog has been frightened by a noise it is likely to be more sensitive to all these noises at once.
Threshold of Hearing Comparison (Dog Walkers Melbourne, 2020) https://www.dogwalkersmelbourne.com.au/articles-dog-walking-pet-sitting/78-dog-hearing-sounds
Audiograms for the domestic cat, dog and ferret (Stackexchange, 2020) https://pets.stackexchange.com/questions/26266/do-dogs-interpret-decibels-the-same-as-humans
The audiogram on the right shows how a cat also has a heightened sensitivity to high frequencies, so they are also at risk of being stressed and frightened during this time. Obviously it is quite difficult to get accurate results when testing dogs hearing so these are provided as a guide only.
What can be done to help pets?
This is a difficult question, Government regulations suggest that Dogs and cats should be kept inside and have a hiding place. And small animals who live outside should be provided with lots of extra bedding and nesting material to burrow in.
In reality this may not be enough. The US Army designed hearing protection for dogs to use when on the battlefield. The most well-known commercial brand Muttmuffs however, receive quite mixed reviews online. This may be due to the low frequencies involved in explosions which are notoriously difficult to mitigate against.
Masking maybe an option. The Dogs Trust suggest that at the "essential socialisation period of 3 to 16 weeks of age, dogs are often able to cope more effectively with novel, frightening sounds like fireworks or loud engine noises." They also suggest in a more recent twitter post that it's a good idea to build a shelter for them. This could help in isolating noise from the dog especially if you are able to create a sealed space like a box which is elevated from the ground.
Some articles on Helping Dogs Cope with Fireworks
Effect on pet owners
As stated above, the effect on owners can also be very disruptive. One person has even decided to draw up a petition to ban them (link) The Covid-19 situation has put a strain on every area of life and this one is no exception. This article discusses the effect of Fireworks in Urban areas. It states that "current legal regulations only slightly affect the subject of noise of fireworks and its harmfulness. Currently, it does not seem possible to completely prohibit the use of fireworks in urban areas, but this does not mean that it is not possible to decrease the degree of their annoyance.
Useful guide on the differences between Human and Dog Hearing