Approximately 33% of dog owners say their pet is noise-averse, and the condition also affects cats. However, this condition is often dismissed or not recognized, leaving the pets to suffer in silence. Our Heritage Veterinary Clinic team wants to alleviate your pet’s fear and anxiety, so we offer information about noise aversion in pets and how the condition is managed. 

Pet noise aversion definition

Noise aversion is defined as a fear-based response to an auditory stimulus. Pets can react to any noise they find alarming, including sudden, loud, everyday sounds that they consider “noise monsters.” Triggers most commonly include fireworks and thunderstorms, but also sirens, doorbells, kitchen appliances, construction noise, smoke detectors, lawn equipment, crowd noise, sporting events on television, and electronic noises. Affected pets are extremely anxious, similar to a person’s panic attack. Left untreated, noise aversion can negatively impact a pet’s quality of life.

Pet noise aversion causes

The underlying cause of a pet’s noise aversion often is never determined, but potential contributing factors include:

  • Improper socialization — Pets who are properly exposed to experiences, including varying noises, when they are young are less likely to be noise-averse.
  • Genetics — Certain breeds, such as herding and pointing canines, seem to be more susceptible to noise sensitivities.
  • Trauma — A traumatic event can make a pet fear associated noises.
  • Learned response — A pet who lives with a noise-averse pet can themselves start exhibiting a similar response.
  • Pain — Pets who are in pain may associate a certain sound with their discomfort and develop a noise aversion.
  • Cognitive dysfunction — Senior pets affected by cognitive dysfunction may develop noise aversion.

Pet noise aversion signs

Most noise-averse pets start exhibiting signs, which can vary in type and intensity, when they are less than 2 years old, and the condition is typically well-established by age 4. Examples include:

  • Subtle — Subtle signs may include lip licking, yawning, lifting a forelimb, increased salivation, dilated pupils, and increased heart and respiration rates.
  • Passive — Passive signs may include freezing, excessive panting, hiding, cowering, and trembling.
  • Active — Active signs may include attention seeking, hypervigilance, pacing, vocalization, trying to escape, house soiling, aggression, destructive behavior, and anal gland expression.

Pet noise aversion ramifications

Noise aversion has several serious ramifications for you and your pet, including:

  • Emotional trauma — Noise-averse pets experience extreme stress and anxiety when they are triggered.
  • Physical trauma — A panicked pet may injure themselves trying to escape from the frightening noise.
  • Additional problems — Noise-averse pets commonly develop other anxiety-related issues, such as separation anxiety and generalized anxiety.
  • Other pets — Other pets in your home can learn to fear noises if they are exposed to a noise-averse pet.
  • Destruction — Your panicked pet may unintentionally damage your belongings.
  • House soiling — The anxiety may cause your pet to forget their house training or stop using their litter box.

Pet noise aversion treatment

Pet noise aversion should be diagnosed and addressed as soon as possible to minimize your pet’s trauma. Treatment typically involves a three-part approach that includes:

  • Environmental management — Environmental management involves limiting your pet’s exposure to the triggering noise, creating a pet-safe zone where your pet can escape during the triggering event, and masking the upsetting noise with music or white noise.
  • Behavior modification — In some cases, the pet can be desensitized to the triggering noise. This can take several weeks or months, and involves:
    • Finding a soundtrack that triggers your pet’s fear response
    • Playing the track at a low enough volume that causes no reaction from your pet, and doing something enjoyable, such as feeding them, giving them a high-value treat, or playing their favorite game at the same time
    • Practicing this daily or multiple times a day as you gradually increase the volume at each session
    • Lowering the volume to a safe level as soon as your pet responds anxiously or fearfully, and waiting until the next session to increase the volume more gradually 
  • Medications and supplements— Pheromones and other anti-anxiety supplements may help some pets. These products are typically most effective when administered before the triggering event. In severe cases, a sedative or anti-anxiety medication may help manage your pet’s noise aversion. Our team can help you determine the most appropriate products and the correct dose for your pet.

Noise aversion, especially in severe cases, is not an easy fix, and typically requires a long-term effort and dedication to effectively address the problem. If your pet exhibits fear or anxiety during a triggering noise, don’t let them suffer another day. Contact our Heritage Veterinary Clinic team, so we can help you devise an appropriate treatment strategy that will effectively address their noise phobia.