A bright, loud fireworks display flashing across the night sky is often considered a fun hallmark of seasonal pastimes like baseball games and barbecues. Yet these blasts of sound and flashing color can easily frighten and even harm animals—and not just our pets. Humans jump at unexpected loud noises too, so it’s easy to understand why animals can have fearful reactions to the deafening noise that occurs on such holidays as the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve.  

“There is a certain nostalgia—we, in the United States especially, have held onto this idea of big, booming fireworks as part of a celebration of what our country is,” says Preston Moore, Iowa state director for the Humane Society of the United States. “But think about the impact past your own yard.” 

In residential areas, all nearby pets can be affected by one person’s fun. Animal shelters may see an influx of lost dogs who bolt, and some animals might become the victims—or even causes—of car accidents. 

I’ve seen my horses take off at a gallop around their field, watching them with my heart in my throat worried they would crash through a fence or trip and break a leg. It is horrifying every Fourth of July.

Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, the HSUS

While fear of loud noises such as thunder or fireworks can be mitigated from inside the home by creating a safe space or playing music to soften the sounds, animals who live outdoors have no escape—but that doesn’t stop them from trying. 

“I’ve seen my horses take off at a gallop around their field, watching them with my heart in my throat worried they would crash through a fence or trip and break a leg. It is horrifying every Fourth of July,” says Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, HSUS Maryland state director. 

Studies also show that fireworks can have a devastating impact on wildlife. They can disrupt migration patterns in some bird species, and individuals who survive mid-air collisions with the explosives have been found badly burned. Wildlife rehabilitators may also take in more orphaned wildlife, such as young birds and squirrels whose parents flee. Fireworks also pollute soil, water and air, and they can harm humans: Their components have caused cardiovascular and respiratory damage, even death.

Some states are pushing back. When Iowa legalized consumer-grade fireworks in 2017, Cedar Rapids residents saw an immediate uptick in disruptive backyard displays, says Moore, noting that they can be tough for veterans experiencing PTSD. That same year, public outcry from animal lovers led the city to decide fireworks wouldn’t be allowed within city limits.

Pennsylvania legalized consumer fireworks in 2017. Since then, fireworks have caused barn fires, vehicle collisions with spooked horses and a fireworks-related fire that killed a child in the summer of  2021.

It’s almost a gateway issue to think about how your choices are impacting the world and other living things.

Preston Moore, the HSUS

In response, residents have formed groups such as Stop Philly Fireworks, a grassroots task force supporting legislation that would institute reasonable controls that include prohibiting fireworks during certain times and increasing penalties for violations. It’s also a top priority for the Municipal League, where coalition partners—including the HSUS—have “worked together to really focus on how we’re going to move this legislation forward,” according to Kristen Tullo, Pennsylvania state director.

The state had a policy win in 2022 with the Modified Fireworks Law, which requires users to provide written notice to animal housing facilities within 72 hours of discharging fireworks within 150-300 feet of their property. The law also gives more power to municipalities to regulate consumer fireworks, allowing governments to set time restrictions and usage prohibitions. 

A more humane and healthy solution may be found in technology like “quiet” fireworks, laser shows and drone displays, which create a spectacle without the noise.

“I think there’s an appetite for that in a lot of communities,” says Moore. “It’s almost a gateway issue to think about how your choices are impacting the world and other living things.”


There are simple ways to keep both pets and wildlife safe during festivities. Learn More

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Cover of All Animals Winter 2024 Issue