Noise aversion is a serious problem that can cause extreme panic in pets, yet this common condition frequently goes undiagnosed and untreated. Our team at Towne Centre Animal Hospital wants to help by answering frequently asked questions about pet noise aversion, in case your pet is affected.

Question: What is pet noise aversion?

Answer: Pet noise aversion is a condition where a pet exhibits extreme fear or anxiety from a particular noise. Noise aversion in pets is similar to a panic attack in humans, and affected pets are severely distressed. 

Q: What noises commonly cause pet noise aversion?

A: Any sound can cause pet noise aversion, but common offenders include thunder, fireworks, construction noise, crowds, car horns, doorbells, vacuum cleaners, and smoke detectors.

Q: Why are pets affected by noise aversion?

A: Some breeds, such as pointers and hunting dog breeds, seem genetically predisposed to noise aversion, but other contributing factors can include:

  • Not socializing your pet — In their first few months of life, your pet should be socialized so they become a well-adjusted, well-mannered adult pet. This process involves introducing them to as many new experiences, including sites, sounds, textures, people, and other pets and animals, as possible. Exposure to many unfamiliar situations teaches them to adapt and remain calm in each new circumstance. Pets who are not properly socialized can become noise-averse.
  • Pets experiencing pain — Noise-averse pets commonly have muscular or joint pain, and  when they startle at a loud noise, the tensing can strain their painful muscles and joints, leading them to think the noise caused the pain.
  • Negative associations — A pet who has a bad experience during a particular noise can make a negative association.
  • Other scared pets — When one pet is noise-averse, other household pets can learn to fear the sound.

Q: What are noise aversion signs in pets?

A: Noise aversion signs vary, depending on your pet’s personality. Common signs include:

  • Disappearing — Many pets, especially cats, hide when they are afraid—one reason some owners are unaware their pet has a problem. If you notice that your pet suddenly disappears during thunderstorms or firework displays, they may have a noise aversion.
  • Exhibiting anxiety — Subtle signs, such as lip licking, yawning, panting, and lifting a forelimb, can indicate anxiety in pets.
  • Escaping — Some pets will scratch or chew at door frames, attempting to escape, and may injure themselves and damage your property during their attempts.
  • Seeking comfort — Your pet will look to you for reassurance, and when frightened by a noise, may seek your attention and comfort.
  • Vocalizing — Your pet may vocalize loudly when scared by a noise.
  • Trembling — Your pet may tremble, shake, or cower when frightened by a noise.
  • Eliminating — Some noise-averse pets urinate or defecate inappropriately.

Q: How is noise aversion diagnosed in pets?

A: Diagnosis relies mainly on owner reports about how their pet reacts to a particular noise. A noise aversion checklist is available to help you determine if your pet is affected.

Q: How is noise aversion treated in pets?

A: Several management strategies can address noise-averse pets, but you may have to try multiple approaches. Strategies include:

  • Creating a safe zone — Create a safe zone for your pet so they always have a retreat when they are frightened. Place comfortable bedding, treats, and toys in this area to make your pet feel secure.
  • Providing comfort — Reassure and comfort your pet when they are frightened.
  • Playing music — Play music or white noise to mask the upsetting noise.
  • Distracting your pet — Distract your pet by playing a game or offering them a food puzzle toy.
  • Investigating calming devices — Calming devices, such as ear muffs, close fitting vests, and pheromones, help some noise-averse pets.
  • Desensitizing and counterconditioning — Behavior modification can be used to desensitize your pet to upsetting noises, but these techniques can take weeks or months to be effective. Steps include:
  • Find a recording — Find a recording representing the noise your pet finds frightening, and play the track to ensure your pet reacts as expected.
  • Play the recording quietly — Play the recording at a low enough level that your pet doesn’t react.
  • Make the experience positive — While the recording is playing, ensure your pet has a positive experience by feeding them, playing with them, giving them a treat, or petting them.
  • Increase the volume — At each session, incrementally increase the recording’s volume to gradually desensitize your pet to the noise.
  • Go slowly — This technique takes patience, and you must not rush the process. If your pet exhibits fear at any point, immediately decrease the volume until they are calm, and start at the lower volume for the next session.

Q: What if these strategies don’t work for my pet?

A: If these techniques don’t help your pet, they may need medications to help manage their noise aversion. These drugs work best when administered before the upsetting event, and our veterinary professionals will determine what medication and dose is best for your pet. 

Noise aversion is a serious issue for pets, and your affected pet needs veterinary treatment. If you suspect your pet has a noise aversion, contact our team at Towne Centre Animal Hospital, so we can address their fear.