Spooky Sounds - Noise Aversion in Pets

Imagine that you are quietly living your normal life. Then, one random night, the entire neighborhood, including your family, are dressed in unrecognizable garb, and making unusual noises. Creepy strangers of all sizes are ringing your doorbell, shouting loudly, and holding out bags and buckets. Bizarre decorations adorn your once cozy home, and startling sounds emerge from every corner as you walk by. The neighbor’s house is vibrating with bass, and laser lights dance across their shrubs. The windows rattle in reply.

You’d be alarmed, too.

Unpredictable Halloween and other holiday noises may send your pet scrambling for sanctuary under the bed or in your closet. For these petrified pets, Ambleside Animal Hospital has composed a helpful guide to understanding and reducing noise aversion (i.e., noise phobia or sensitivity).

What is noise aversion in pets?

Noise aversion is characterized by intense panic and over-reaction to loud sounds. While cats can be affected, noise aversion most commonly occurs in dogs, with roughly 67 percent of canines affected, although most go undiagnosed. Pets may show signs at any stage of life, without a clear cause. Noise-averse pets may react negatively to:

  • Thunder
  • Fireworks
  • Gunshots
  • Loud events
  • Construction noise
  • Everyday noise (e.g., garbage truck, door bell, vacuum, or paper shredder)

A noise-averse animal who is experiencing fear is on par with a human having a panic attack. Pets may become severely anxious, destructive, hide, or try to escape. 

How do I know if my pet has noise aversion?

Many pets have easily recognizable stress signs when they are frightened, but others may be more subtle. Pets may show varying levels of discomfort:

  • Mildly affected — Lip licking, yawning, and restlessness
  • Moderately affected —Hiding, panting, pacing, and shaking
  • Severely affected — Vocalizing, house-soiling, behaving destructively (e.g., digging, or chewing), attempting to escape, attention-seeking, misdirected aggression, or attacking a housemate

What happens if I ignore my pet’s noise aversion?

Unfortunately, noise aversion intensifies with time and lack of treatment. 

  • Sensitization — Affected pets may become sensitized, meaning they react inappropriately to less intense, everyday sounds. 
  • Noise association — Pets may also react to any stimuli associated with the noise, such as pets with thunderstorm phobia responding to rain, lightning, or barometric pressure change.
  • Progression — Untreated noise aversion can progress to generalized anxiety disorder, and severely impact your pet’s quality of life.

Schedule an appointment at Ambleside Animal Hospital at the first indication of noise aversion in your pet.

How is noise aversion in pets diagnosed?

During your pet’s complete physical examination, our veterinarian will ask you key questions about your pet’s behavior, such as when reactions occur, what your pet is responding to, what the behavior looks like, and how quickly your pet recovers after the noise has ended. Answering these questions thoroughly and honestly will help our team isolate a neurological cause for noise aversion, as opposed to a physical condition (i.e., sensory loss).

How will my pet be treated for noise aversion?

Each pet is unique, and so is their noise aversion problem, and our veterinarian will advise you on the best treatment course for your individual pet. Effective treatment usually involves a multi-modal approach, and may include exposure management, behavior modification, and pharmaceuticals. 

Exposure management — Reducing your pet’s exposure to upsetting stimuli will significantly improve their ability to cope with holidays, storms, or other anticipated noise events. Create a safe indoor space away from windows and external doors where your pet can relax. Fill the space with a cozy crate or comfortable bed, and some toys to preoccupy your pet (e.g., food-stuffed Kongs, or food puzzles). Play white noise or soft music to drown out upsetting sounds, and check your pet often to ensure they are content.

  • During Halloween, deactivate your doorbell, or meet trick-or-treaters on your porch, to prevent sudden knocking, chiming, or yelling. 
  • Keep your pet indoors during noisy events, to prevent them from escaping the yard and running away.

Behavior modification — Your pet’s veterinarian may recommend consultation with a veterinary behaviorist, who can guide you through a desensitization and counterconditioning (DS/CC) program that will help your pet learn new and positive responses to loud noises.

  • Products such as anti-anxiety wraps and calming pheromones may be helpful for some pets. 

Pharmaceuticals — Many pets benefit from a sedative or anti-anxiety medication prior to a noisy event. Your veterinarian can discuss whether a medication, such as Trazodone, or a calming supplement, such as Solliquin or Zylkene, is appropriate for your pet. Medication is not a permanent solution, but can help reduce your pet’s stress and allow them to relax.

As with any anxiety disorder, noise aversion has no quick fix. With patience and dedicated effort, however, your pet can learn new reactions to loud noises, resulting in a positive effect on their lifelong health and emotional wellbeing. If your pet has demonstrated noise aversion signs, or another form of anxiety, contact Ambleside Animal Hospital.