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What’s that Sound?! Noise Sensitivity in Pets

Do loud noises, thunderstorms and fireworks stress your pet out? If so, your pet may be noise averse—a serious condition, which can negatively impact their quality of life.

Dr Treat
What’s that Sound?! Noise Sensitivity in Pets

Key takeaway

Untreated noise aversion can intensify when a pet who initially reacted to one loud infrequent sound (e.g., fireworks, thunder) begins being triggered by common everyday noises (e.g., doorbell, garbage disposal, delivery truck). The condition can worsen, progressing to generalized anxiety disorder or separation anxiety, negatively affecting both pet and owner.

A
pproximately one-third of the canine population and a lower percentage of the feline population experience noise aversion.

Although veterinarians do not fully understand noise aversion’s cause, we do know genetics and past negative associations (e.g., being left outside in a storm, receiving an injection as a door slams) influence the condition. When a noise-averse pet is triggered, they experience severe stress and apprehension—similar to a human’s panic attack. While in the noise-averse state, pets may demonstrate dangerous behavior such as running away and getting lost or being hit by a car, or self-harming.

Noise aversion in pets

Untreated noise aversion can intensify when a pet who initially reacted to one loud infrequent sound (e.g., fireworks, thunder) begins being triggered by common everyday noises (e.g., doorbell, garbage disposal, delivery truck). The condition can worsen, progressing to generalized anxiety disorder or separation anxiety, negatively affecting both pet and owner.

“When a noise-averse pet is triggered, they experience severe stress and apprehension—similar to a human’s panic attack. ”

Common noise aversion signs in pets

Severely affected noise-averse pets display obvious and undeniable stress. However, some dogs and cats exhibit only mild or subtle noise aversion signs that are easy to overlook. Be vigilant, and if you notice your pet exhibiting noise-averse anxiety signs, schedule an appointment with one of our Dr. Treat veterinarians, who can limit your pet’s noise aversion progression and the condition’s increasingly negative effects.

Common noise aversion signs include:
  • Panting
  • Pacing or restless behavior
  • Hiding
  • Shaking, trembling, shivering
  • Drooling
  • Vocalizing
  • House soiling
  • Inappetence
  • Destructive behavior (e.g., chewing, digging, especially near windows and doors)
  • Self-harm
  • Attempted escape
  • Running away

Noise aversion diagnosis and treatment in pets

If your pet is sensitive to loud or sudden sounds, we recommend an in-person Dr. Treat visit. Because other medical conditions can present with hypersensitivity, anxiety, and agitation, your pet’s veterinarian will take a full medical history and complete a physical examination to ensure they correctly diagnose and treat your pet’s condition. If our veterinary professional determines your pet has noise aversion, they will tailor a detailed multi-step plan that addresses your pet’s distress.

While noise aversion cannot be cured, your pet’s emotional experience can be altered through medication, environmental management, and training:

Medication


Pharmaceutical treatment quickly relieves your pets’ distress. Some pets may be prescribed anti-anxiety medication, but dogs can be given an FDA-approved medication that specifically treats their noise aversion. However, medication can effectively reduce noise-related distress by altering your pet’s brain signals, but is not a long-term noise aversion solution, and not a stand-alone therapy. The most effective noise aversion treatment is medication in conjunction with other management methods.

Environmental management 


Limiting your pet’s exposure to triggering sounds is the best way to reduce stress and anxiety. Everyday loud noises are unavoidable, but you can reduce your pet’s exposure by putting them in an area where the volume is less offensive, such as a room where no noisy appliance is running, or indoors during a noisy outdoor event.  Another environmental noise aversion management strategy includes creating a calm safe space for your pet during prolonged noisy situations such as storms and fireworks displays. We recommend outfitting this space with common creature comforts (e.g., bed or crate, water, litter box, familiar toys) and reducing your pet’s anxiety by providing the following:

  • Calming pheromones — Feliway for cats and Adaptil for dogs fill the air with calm and happy chemical messages your pet understands.
  • White noise — To reduce your pet’s anxiety, drown out disturbing sounds with a radio, television, or white noise machine.
  • Food-stuffed toys or puzzles — Redirect your pet’s energy by giving them a hollow rubber toy filled with canned pet food or low-fat, xylitol-free yogurt and peanut butter. Freeze the toy to provide your pet a longer-lasting treat. Always keep an eye on your pet to ensure they do not choke on a food toy or puzzle.
  • Anxiety wrap — A pressure garment may comfort your pet. Try dressing them in a Thundershirt or a DIY pet anxiety wrap.
Desensitization and counterconditioning


For your pet’s long-term noise aversion resolution, retrain their response to the triggering sound through desensitization and counterconditioning:

  • Desensitization — Gradually expose your pet to the anxiety-producing stimulus (i.e., sound) at the lowest possible, nonreaction-causing volume. Over time, gradually increase the volume, but always keep the noise below your pet’s anxiety threshold.
  • Counterconditioning — Help your pet change their emotional response to the sound by establishing a new and positive association, such as with food rewards.

Together, desensitization and counterconditioning help your pet develop a new emotional response to a previously negative environmental cue (i.e., the sound). Because this method is a gradual and delicate process, we recommend that you talk with Dr. Treat’s virtual care service or consult with a veterinary behaviorist to oversee and guide you.

Plan ahead to keep your pet calm during a noisy event

Final notes

Noise sensitivity does not have to mute your pet’s quality of life or put them in harm’s way. Reassure your anxious pet by providing them with the ultimate personalized veterinary care—Dr. Treat. Claim your spot on our waiting list to receive preferential access when a membership becomes available.

Written by:

Dr Treat

A veterinary practice that is reimagining the approach to the health and wellbeing of companion animals.

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