Does your pet dive under the couch at the slightest sound of distant thunder? Do you dread holidays that involve fireworks celebrations, because you know how much they upset your pet? Watching your pet’s fearful reaction to noise is hard, especially if you are unsure about helping them calm down. More pets than you may think experience noise aversion—an exaggerated stress response to noise that triggers anxiety and fear-related behaviors—but you can manage the condition and reduce your pet’s stress. Our team at Neighborhood Veterinary Centers is here to provide a better understanding of noise aversion and tips to help your pet cope. 

Noise aversion in pets often goes undiagnosed

Surveys have shown that noise aversion affects more than one-third of U.S. dogs—the condition can affect cats, too—but the problem largely goes undiagnosed. Why? Many pet owners think their pet’s fear of loud sounds is normal, and don’t consult their veterinarian. Without this information, your pet’s problem is not diagnosed, or—more importantly—treated for this stressful condition. Left untreated, noise aversion can escalate and become extremely severe.

Common sounds that trigger noise-averse pets

Pets who are sensitive to one particular loud sound or event generally become fearful of other unsettling noises, as well. While the triggers may vary, common sounds or events that trigger noise aversion in pets include:

  • Thunderstorms
  • Fireworks
  • Vacuum cleaners
  • Construction work
  • Heavy traffic
  • Gunshots
  • Shrieking children
  • Yelling adults
  • Excessively loud TV or radio

Factors that increase a pet’s noise aversion risk

While any pet can develop noise aversion, certain factors can increase a pet’s risk, including:

  • Breed — Certain breeds are more likely to be noise-averse. For example, herding breeds (e.g., border collies) are more sensitive to loud noises than hunting breeds (e.g., German shorthaired pointers).
  • Socialization — The first few months of a pet’s life are considered a crucial development period, when negative experiences with certain sounds (e.g., loud fireworks, thunderstorms) can have lifelong consequences. Inadequately socialized pets are at higher risk of becoming noise-averse, because they never learn that unusual sounds aren’t dangerous.
  • Other pets — Anxiety around noises can be contagious. In multi-pet households, where one pet shows a fear of loud noises, other pets often also become frightened. 

Noise aversion signs in pets

Noise aversion signs in pets vary widely, but usually appear as anxiety during or after a loud event. Common signs include:

  • Vocalization, such as whining, howling, or excessive barking or meowing
  • Trembling
  • Shaking
  • Pacing
  • Lip licking
  • Panting
  • Drooling
  • Yawning
  • Hiding
  • Flattened ears
  • Clingy behavior
  • Inappropriate elimination
  • Loss of appetite

A pet with severe noise aversion may display extreme behavior and may try to escape and hurt themselves. They may try to dig through the floor, claw at a closed door, or break a window as they look for a safe place. 

Noise aversion management in pets

You can help support your noise-averse pet with several strategies, although you may need multiple attempts to find what works best for your pet. Strategies include:

  • White noise — During trigger events, encourage your pet to relax in an interior or basement room insulated from outside noise. Play music, white noise, or the television, and provide comfy bedding and familiar toys or treats to distract your pet. 
  • Pressure wraps — Pressure wraps (i.e., ThunderShirts) and pheromone sprays or diffusers (e.g., Adaptil) can be helpful. 
  • Medication — Calming supplements or anti-anxiety medications can help calm your pet without sedation, and can benefit pets with all noise aversion levels. Medications can be given daily or during noise events only. 
  • Behavior modification — Desensitization and counter-conditioning are training methods that slowly expose your pet, starting with low noise levels, and pair rewards to a positive response, gradually increasing the noise level. Your veterinarian can recommend trainers who specialize in these methods. 

Living with a noise-averse pet can be stressful for you and your pet, but with understanding, patience, and your veterinarian’s support, you can help your pet overcome their fears and feel calm around noise triggers. If you are concerned about your pet’s noise aversion, schedule an appointment with our team at Neighborhood Veterinary Centers, so we can help your fearful pet and improve their quality of life.