Thunderstorms and fireworks are a common occurrence in the summertime, and are also frequent triggers for noise-averse pets. Efforts to manage the condition take time and should be started as soon as possible. Our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited team at Dove Mountain Veterinary wants to help by providing information about noise aversion in pets.
The noise-averse pet
Noise-averse pets experience extreme fear and anxiety in response to certain noises. The most common triggers are thunderstorms and fireworks, but other sounds, such as car alarms, sirens, lawnmowers, crowd noise, vacuum cleaners, and fire alarms, also can precipitate a reaction. The experience is akin to a person having a panic attack, and the pet is in severe distress. Noise-averse pets are more likely to develop other behavioral issues as well, such as separation anxiety and aggression. The exact cause is often unknown, but predisposing factors include:
- Breed — Some dog breeds, such as pointers, German shepherds, and other hunting breeds, are at higher risk for noise aversion.
- Unsocialized pets — Socializing a pet involves exposing them to new sights, sounds, people, other pets, animals, and experiences in the first few months of life. This helps them learn to adapt to unfamiliar situations so they become well-adjusted and well-behaved adult pets. If a pet is not properly socialized, they are at increased risk for noise aversion.
- Pets in pain — Noise aversion has been linked to musculoskeletal pain. Many pets diagnosed as noise averse have musculoskeletal pain, and researchers hypothesize that the pet’s pain is exacerbated when they tense in response to a noise, causing them to relate the pain to the noise. If your pet is noise averse, let our veterinary professionals evaluate them to ensure pain isn’t contributing to the problem.
- Impressionable pets — Pets can learn to fear a noise if another pet in the household has a noise aversion, especially if they are closely bonded to the other pet.
- Bad experiences — If a noise occurs during a stressful or painful experience, a pet can develop a negative reaction to the sound.
Diagnosing the noise-averse pet
Since pet owners are most likely to notice their pets’ fear response, diagnosis typically relies on details they provide about their pets’ behavior. Noise-averse pets can exhibit signs from subtle to extreme, including:
- Hiding — Many pets hide in response to loud sounds, and cats are particularly likely to disappear when frightened. Be aware of how your pet responds during a thunderstorm or fireworks display to ensure they aren’t noise averse and suffering in silence.
- Anxiety signs — Licking the lips, panting, yawning, and lifting a forelimb can indicate your pet is experiencing stress and anxiety.
- Attention seeking — Some pets become more clingy in response to loud noises and seek their owner’s attention for comfort.
- Extreme signs — In severe cases, signs can include trembling, shaking, attempting to escape, excessive vocalization, and inappropriate urinating and defecating.
Environmental management for the noise-averse pet
Environmental management can help some noise-averse pets. The following techniques may be useful:
- Responding appropriately — If your pet has a noise aversion, never respond by punishing or scolding them. This will only worsen the situation and cause them more stress and anxiety. In addition, try to stay as calm as possible while comforting your pet so your anxiety doesn’t exacerbate their fear.
- Creating a comfort zone — Designate a place in your home as your pet’s comfort zone. This area can be a crate, a closet, or a small room. Ensure they have comforting items, such as toys and their favorite blanket, to offer reassurance. This should be an area where they can escape if they are afraid or become overwhelmed.
- Masking the noise — In cases where you can anticipate the triggering noise, leave music or the television playing to mask the sound.
- Researching products — Several products, such as synthetic pheromones, close-fitted vests, ear muffs, and blinder caps, are marketed to help calm pets. Research these products to see if they could be effective for your pet.
Behavioral modification for the noise-averse pet
Desensitization and counterconditioning techniques can be used to help your noise-averse pet, but these strategies can take several weeks to be effective. Actions include:
- Replicating the upsetting sound — Find a recording that replicates your pet’s triggering noise.
- Keeping the volume low — Play the track at a low enough volume that your pet doesn’t respond fearfully.
- Counterconditioning your pet — Play a game or feed your pet a meal while the recording is playing to make the situation pleasant.
- Gradually increasing the volume — Slowly, over several sessions, increase the volume to desensitize your pet to the noise. If at any time, they become upset, decrease the volume until they are calm, and start the next session at the decreased volume.
Drug therapy for the noise-averse pet
Some pets are so severely noise averse that medication is required to address their condition. Several medications are available, and our veterinary professionals will help determine which one is right for your pet. These medications work best when they are administered before the upsetting event, and a trial run may be necessary to ensure your pet receives the correct dose.