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Fireworks and Animals

A survey of Scottish vets in 2001



Maggie Page
Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
January 2002
Registered office: Braehead Mains, 603, Queensferry Road, Edinburgh EH4 6EA
Company Limited by Guarantee Number 201401, Scottish Charity number SCO06467
Telephone: 0131 339 0222  Fax: 09131 339 4777 E-Mail: parliamentary@scottishspca.org



Aims and Objectives

In 2001 the Scottish SPCA received an increased number of calls from members of the public who were concerned about the distress that fireworks can cause to animals.  The vast majority of the callers stated that they believed that the firework problem is on the increase, with fireworks no longer only used around 5th November, some are being heard as early as mid September.  There is also concern that fireworks appear to be louder and in greater numbers than in previous years.

The Scottish SPCA is aware of the pain and distress that fireworks can cause animals and has dealt with several serious firework causalities in recent years.  The Society is also deeply concerned by the apparent increase in the use of fireworks.

The Scottish SPCA has voiced its concern to politicians and has conducted a media campaign to raise awareness of these problems with the general public.  To get a better picture of the extent of the problem throughout the country, the Society conducted a survey of 193 vets across Scotland asking them about their experiences with fireworks. This accounts for 60% of veterinary practices in Scotland.  This survey has established a clearer picture of the animal welfare implications of firework use.

The problems identified through the work of the Society are that fireworks are going on for a longer period of time and that they cause significant stress to animals and in some cases cause injury.  Some animals have been victims of deliberate firework attacks.  In the one-page survey sent to the veterinary practices, an attempt has been made to establish whether this trend applies outwith the work of the Society, and throughout Scotland.

The survey produced a 45% response rate with 79 veterinary practices (90%) saying they had treated animals for firework related problems.

As explained further in this report, this survey has exposed the widespread implications of increased fireworks use for animals and pet owners.  Problems range from stress and anxiety to fatal injury or having to be put to sleep.

The survey was sent out on 7th December 2001 and the vast majority of responses were received by 24th December 2001, therefore the figures will not include any casualties of the New Year fireworks.

Sample
The questionnaire was sent out to 193 veterinary practices.  This accounts for 60% of the practices in Scotland.  The sample covers all of Scotland to give a fair representation of the country and excludes specialist equine and agricultural practices.

Response
The response rate stands at 45% (88 respondents) as of 21st January 2002



Findings

Animals being treated
90% of the respondents had treated animals for problems related to fireworks.  The numbers of animals treated in a practice ranged from 3 to 200.  A total of 2,430 animals were reported to have been treated for a problem related to fireworks.

91% (2,224) of animals treated were dogs.
9.1% (220) were cats
A further thirty animals were reported to have been treated, including - 15 small animals, 3 wild animals/birds, 2 horses and 5 agricultural animals.

Almost all of the reported cases were stress related, with animals suffering from severe stress and anxiety.  All the non-deliberate injuries were also due to animals reacting to stress.

Earliest report of a firework case
84.8% of respondents chose to answer this question.  Of this 50% reported their first case in September (16%) or early October (34%), at least a month before Guy Fawkes night.

This graph below shows that the vast majority of vets are encountering cases well before 5th November.

Date of first firework related patient

 
   
   
   
   
     
 

Has the number of firework related cases causes increased?

37% of respondents felt that there had been an increase in the number of firework-related cases on previous years.  When asked by how much they believed it to have increased, the answers ranged from 10% to 100%, with an average of 39.52%.  Many respondents also stressed in writing that this had been the worst year ever experienced and that fireworks were getting louder.  This will be discussed further in the Local Authority breakdown.

"This has been easily the worst year ever, starting earlier and lasting longer than I can ever remember.  We must put pressure on legislators to introduce tighter controls on the sale of these products"
Peter J Smith, Veterinary Surgery, Airdrie

Treatment of animals suffering from stress due to fireworks
For an animal suffering from stress, sedation appears to be the most popular treatment, with 88% of respondents prescribing sedatives such as ACP (acepromazine).  20% stated that they would use tranquillisers if required.  Other forms of treatment including homeopathic remedies, desensitisation using tape recordings of fireworks, behavioural therapy and advising owners to drown out the noise by increasing the volume of a TV or radio.

 
   
   
   
   
     
 

Treatments such as sedation and tranquillisers are not considered suitable for administering over a long period of time.  The extended firework season has implications for the practicality of this type of treatment.

"The only method available is sedation and it is only suitable for 2-3 days in a row"
Albyn Veterinary Centre, Broxburn


Deliberate attacks

Three casualties of deliberate attacks were recorded this year by the vets responding.

Kittens suffered from smoke inhalation in a house fire after a firework was put through a letterbox, resulting in one fatality.    Glasgow

Cat had to have its leg amputated after a firework attack  Largs

Fireworks being put into a car with two dogs.
    Kilmarnock

Serious firework related cases
When asked to cite an example of the most serious case related to fireworks this year, 28 (33%) respondents described cases ranging from animals becoming aggressive and destructive to animals having to be put down.

9 animals had to be put to sleep because of stress or injury relating to fireworks

4 animals, all dogs, were involved in road traffic accidents after bolting through fear of fireworks, 3 of the dogs were put to sleep.

Symptoms of this acute anxiety and stress were expressed in many ways; examples of responses are given below.

'Dog too excited to react to sedatives and nipped owner' 

Broxburn, West Lothian


'Dog chewed a hole through a plasterboard wall'

Broughty Ferry, Tayside


'Aged bronchic dog with acute exacerbation due to firework stress.  Intensive treatment was eventually successful in improving condition but euthanasia was considered'

Ayr, South Ayrshire


One working Border collie (with pups) was killed on the road - she bolted from home after fireworks panicked her.  Another Border collie received serious facial lacerations following a Road Traffic Accident'

Kilmarnock

'Phobia leading to soiling and destruction within house'

Livingstone, West Lothian


Dog demolishing client's bathroom where it was hiding.  Cats disappearing for days, aviary birds dying, rabbit aborting'

Cowdenbeath


'An elderly dog. known to be epileptic but stable on drugs with no fits this year had a major seizure after a firework went off in the garden, he suffered cardiac failure'

Inverness



Local Authority Breakdown

Sample
It was also possible to analyse the data broken down into the 32 Scottish local authorities.

Due to the lack of response from some local authority areas it was not possible to give complete analysis for every area.  The following areas have been excluded from this area of study.

Shetland and Inverclyde - no vets in the sample were located in these areas.

Aberdeen City, East Renfrewshire, Stirling, West Dunbartonshire and Western Isles - no responses were received from these areas.

It is also important to note that some local authorities had very few vets in the sample - Orkney had one vet in our sample and a 100% return rate.
Clackmannanshire had two vets in our survey and a 50% return rate.

In total there is sufficient evidence to analyse 25 of Scotland's 32 local authority areas.

Findings
By analysing an area breakdown it is possible to look at the issues and problems in the diverse local authority areas.

Surgeries which have treated animals for firework-related problems.
In 19 local authority areas, 100% of respondents had treated animals for problems related to firework.  Six local authority areas did not provide a 100% affirmative answer to this question.  They were

Local Authority  Respondents who had treated animals for firework-related problems

 
   
     
   
   
     
 


Number of animals treated

As displayed in the graph overleaf, the local authority areas that have the largest number of animals being treated are - Glasgow City (426), East Lothian (330), Dundee City (250) and North Lanarkshire (245).  These four areas account for 47% of all the reports of animals receiving attention.

However, the problem is not exclusive to the urban areas.  It is perhaps as relevant to note that 3 animals received treatment in Orkney, 11 in Highland, 34 in Moray and 15 in the Borders, areas where it would not be expected that animals would be affected.

 
   
   
   
   
     
 

Earliest report of a firework case


As described in the general overview, 50% of first cases were reported in September or Early October, at least a month before 5th November.  But there do appear to be regional hotspots where fireworks start earlier.

The first reported incident in the Guy Fawkes period was on 1st September 2001 from a vet in the Dundee City area.  One Edinburgh vet reported the first incident in January 2001, presumably a result of a New Year firework display.

All respondents in the areas of Dundee City, Glasgow City, North Lanarkshire and South Ayrshire reported their first cases either in September or early October.

Only the areas of Perth and Kinross and the Borders had respondents who reported their first case in November.


Has the number of firework cases increased?

When asked if they thought there had been an increase in the number of animals being treated, 37% of all respondents answered yes.  The response to this question also had a geographical dimension.

Has there been an increase on last year's firework cases?

 
   
     
   
   
     
 

Interestingly no vets in East Lothian and only 25% of vets in Dundee City believed there had been an increase in cases on previous years, despite having a relatively large number of cases.



Conclusions


Outline of the problem
The experiences of the Scottish SPCA appear to be reflected in the experience of vets throughout Scotland.  2,430 animals were recorded to have received vet attention.  Judging from the 45% response rate it can be estimated that at least 8000 animals have received veterinary attention for firework related problems in Scotland.
Many more may suffer without ever seeing a vet and the number of farm animals and wildlife which suffer is even harder to estimate.

By far the most common form of treatment is the use of sedatives.  However, many vets commented that sedation should not be used over long periods of time.

The duration of animals exposure to firework stress stretches far beyond 5th November, with half of all respondents receiving their first case in September or early October.

There appears to be a clear geographical dimension to the firework problem, with the urban areas and central belt worst affected.  Glasgow City, Dundee City, and North Lanarkshire appear to be the worst affected areas, with a total of 1,006 animals reported.  The problems also appear to begin earlier in these areas.


The Scottish SPCA believes

Many animals - companion animals, farm animals and wildlife - are affected by firework stress.

Popular treatments for firework stress, such as sedation, are not appropriate for long term use.  If fireworks were restricted to official displays, or a strict time window, pet owners could plan in advance to protect their pets.

It is important to raise awareness of the dangers which fireworks pose to animals, and to encourage people planning firework displays to think of neighbouring animals.

A limit on the sale and use of fireworks would help prevent distress and injury.

Local authorities need improved powers to control the sale of fireworks through licensing retailers.

Retailers should be subject to a statutory code of practice covering the period of sale, explosive capacity, and minimum age for purchase.


Map of Local Authority Regions

 
   
     
   
   
     
 

Example of Survey

 
   
     
   
     
 

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