Community newsFireworks: Human fascination – Animal nightmare!

Fireworks: Human fascination – Animal nightmare!

Fireworks and crackers. A very contentious subject.

For humans, it conjures images of lights and explosions. The booming sounds making spectators gasp and cheer every time there is a small explosion.

It is, unfortunately, not the same for animals. The booming sounds scare most animals sending them into fits of hyperventilation and panic attacks.

Many pets become so frightened by the noise and commotion of fireworks that they run from otherwise familiar environments and people, and sadly become lost. 


December has always been a time when people celebrate the holidays with music, parties and presents. Unfortunately, it is also a time that fireworks are indiscriminately set off. Fireworks are used to celebrate and enhance festivities all over the world. In South Africa, fireworks are used to celebrate the Hindu holiday of Diwali, Guy Fawkes and New Year’s Eve.

The Explosives Act

Fireworks in South Africa are controlled in terms of the Explosives Act 15 of 2003 (Explosives Act). There are also specific by-laws that regulate the use or exploding of fireworks. Firework dealers need to be licensed in terms of the Explosives Act. Only individuals in possession of valid licences may deal in the sale of fireworks.

Read the act on SAPS website HERE

Some shops, however, are still selling Fireworks illegally. It is difficult to police as stocks may not last until law enforcers close on these illegal dealers. No fireworks may be sold by street hawkers or vendors. If you notice these actions, please report it to your nearest police station.

It is also unlawful for any person to use or explode any firework within 500 metres of any building or any public thoroughfare.

Fireworks over Venice, Italy. Photo: Encee van Huyssteen

The Explosives Act 15 of 2003 is clear on how explosives are kept, transported and who can dispose of it. Fireworks are described in the act

“explosive” means- 

(a) a substance. or a mixture of substances, in a solid or liquid state, which is capable of producing an explosion; 

(b) a pyrotechnic substance in a solid or liquid state, or a mixture of such substances. designed to produce an effect by heat, light, sound, gas or smoke, or a combination of these, as the result of non-detonative self-sustaining exothermic chemical reaction, including pyrotechnic substances which do not evolve gases;


“fireworks“ means any pyrotechnic substance contemplated in paragraph (6) of the definition of “explosives” which- 

(a) is manufactured for the purposes of amusement or entertainment: and 

(b) is divided into such classes as may be prescribed;

The NSPCA has the following advice on pets during firework displays

Your Pets and Fireworks

Our handy guide to pet owners is below:-

· Ensure all animals have identification.

· If possible, stay home with them if you suspect fireworks fiends are about.

· If you can’t be home with them, keep them inside and preferably in a room such as the kitchen where the windows are higher (and more difficult to jump through)

· Attempt to mask any noise by drawing curtains and playing calming music at a reasonable volume.

· Put familiar and comforting things around them such as toys, baskets etc.

· Provide them with something to do such as giving your dog a chewy bone or lots of catnip or a catnip toy for felines.

· If your pets do react badly to fireworks, then seek professional advice from your veterinarian.

· Why not ensure your pets have a hearty and nutritious meal around nightfall. This will make them more likely to be sleepy!

Legacypet has the following advice on how to help your dogs with fireworks.

Preparing pets for fireworks (or thunderstorms):

 1. One of the most important things is to provide companionship. Try to stay at home with your pet if fireworks or thunderstorms are expected.

 2. Keep pets indoors.

 3. Make sure dogs get plenty of exercise earlier in the day.

 4. Close all windows, curtains and doors where possible to block out flashing lights and loud sounds.

 5. Provide toys, treats and other distractions to keep pets occupied.

 6. Make sure your pet is micro-chipped or appropriately tagged for easy identification if they become lost. 

Also read: The Road Less Travelled – Little Paws Big Hearts 7-year birthday

Our 5 tips to help you calm anxious pets

1. Turn on music or the television to muffle the sounds, but nothing too loud. It works best when the music or television is on well before the thunderstorm or fireworks start, preferably when the dog is already relaxed.

 2. Don’t fuss over or punish pets if they become agitated with the sounds; doing so only makes the behaviour worse.

3. Act calm and stress-free so that your pet’s fear does not mirror your own, they are sensitive to emotion.

 4. Allow the pet to hide in a safe place if they choose such as a blanket lined cupboard. When scared of sounds they cannot pinpoint, dogs often prefer small, enclosed areas.

 5. If pets run to hide in a corner or under the bed, do not try to coax them out, let them stay where it feels safe.

If your dog starts to show signs of stress when the fireworks start happening, there are things you can do to calm him down. Most importantly, remember your dog is looking to you for guidance and trust. Dogs are pack animals and instinctively want to rely on someone else to make their decisions for him. (In fact, do you really want to make your dog happy? Simply let it know that you will make all of its decisions).

 So above all, you must display calm yourself and show your dog that that is how you want it to behave also. Let it know that you are in charge and that it will come to no harm. To do this, do not react to your dog’s stressful state. This includes trying to comfort them which can, in fact, make things worse.

Instead, calmly yet firmly hold your dog by the collar. Stay very calm yourself and do not react to anything the dog is doing. Do not say anything or use any soothing words. If you maintain this state, in time your dog will begin to calm down and sit or lie down. Let go of them only when they lie down and seem quite relaxed.

The bottom line is not to support illegal fireworks, to use them as allowed by law and to put pets and other animals first!


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Fireworks: Human fascination – Animal nightmare!

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