Noise aversion is a condition that affects roughly one-third of U.S. dogs although the problem largely goes undiagnosed. No data are available on the number of cats affected by noise aversion, as they skillfully hide this sound sensitivity from their owners. Because noise aversion affects many pets, our Belmont Animal Hospital team is here to describe this condition’s causes, signs, and management so you can determine whether your furry pal is experiencing distress when exposed to loud noises. By learning to recognize your pet’s noise aversion signs, you can get them the help they need.
Pets’ noise aversion causes
Any pet can be averse to noise, but certain dog breeds, such as herding dogs and working dogs (e.g., German shepherd dogs), are especially prone to developing a sound sensitivity. In general, hunting dogs are bred to be unbothered by loud sounds, so they are typically less likely to react to loud noises such as gunfire.
A lack of socialization when a pet is young can also lead to their noise aversion. During pets’ sensitive socialization period ending between 12 and 14 weeks of age, owners should positively and gently expose them to commonly experienced loud noises. However, many pets do not receive this social conditioning and develop negative associations with thunderstorms, the vacuum cleaner, or children’s shouts.
If a pet’s anxiety persists when hearing loud sounds and they do not learn to associate the noise with something positive, their anxiety can escalate, becoming a true noise aversion, which is similar to a human’s panic attack.
Pets’ noise aversion signs
Although your pet cannot tell you if they are feeling anxious or afraid, they can exhibit clear distress signs. However, you may not notice these signs because some pets skillfully hide their discomfort, and other pets may be normally jumpy, which is why veterinarians often find diagnosing noise aversion so challenging.
By paying attention to the situation when your pet displays certain behaviors, you can determine if they are frightened by loud sounds. Anxiety- and stress-related behaviors that indicate noise aversion include:
- Vocalization, such as whining, howling, or excessive barking or meowing
- Lip licking
- Flattened ears
- Clingy behavior
- Inappropriate elimination
- Loss of appetite
Pets may also display destructive behavior in an attempt to escape the noise, causing them to frantically chew, dig, or scratch at doors, walls, or windows.
Managing pets’ noise aversion
While noise aversion can greatly impact your pet’s life, the condition can be successfully managed. A three-pronged approach generally works best to help reduce your pet’s sensitivity to sound and includes:
- Environmental management — Once you determine their noise triggers, reduce your pet’s exposure by avoiding construction zones during daily walks or putting them in a different room while you vacuum. If thunderstorms frighten your pet, give them a safe place to hide such as in your home’ most soundproof room and play white noise to help drown out scary sounds.
- Behavior modification — Practice counterconditioning and desensitization in tandem to help your pet form a positive—or at least less negative—association with loud sounds. By pairing high-value rewards and treats with mild exposure to a noise trigger, you can help your pet gradually make a positive association. Try playing your pet a thunder and rain soundtrack at a volume quiet enough that they do not become anxious, and, to create a positive association with the noise, give your pet treats at the same time. Slowly increase the volume and treats to help increase your pet’s positive association of tasty treats with the sound’s louder volume.
- Pharmaceutical agents — Anti-anxiety medication is beneficial for pets who experience moderate to severe anxiety when exposed to loud sounds. You can administer these medications as needed before a noisy event, or you can administer the medication daily as part of a behavioral modification plan until your pet’s noise-averse behavior becomes less intense.
Loud sounds are part of everyday life, and you can learn to keep your four-legged noise-averse friend calm and relaxed when their noise triggers are unavoidable. Contact our Belmont Animal Hospital team to schedule an appointment to discuss managing your pet’s noise aversion.