Up to 67% of dogs may suffer with noise aversion—an exaggerated, fearful response to specific noises such as thunder, fireworks, or smoke alarms. These reactions, similar to human panic attacks, are a medical issue that must be treated to alleviate suffering. Left untreated, dogs with noise aversion gradually get worse, and are more likely to develop other anxiety types. With July Fourth approaching, Town and Country Animal Hospital wants to ensure pet owners understand how noise aversion can affect their pet, and how treatment can help them cope this summer season.
Recognizing anxiety in pets
Dogs are believed to experience anxiety similar to humans, which may manifest in several common forms, including separation anxiety, noise aversion, fear aggression, or generalized anxiety. Anxiety and fear allow pets to react to dangerous situations, but prolonged, inappropriate stress responses to everyday triggers can result in long-term physical and psychological damage. Anxiety in pets requires veterinary care, which may include a combination of medications, supplements, and behavioral modification techniques. But, first, the pet owner must recognize their pet’s anxiety, which may be an ongoing issue, or a response to specific triggers or situations. Anxiety signs may include:
- Hiding, pacing, attempting to escape
- Whining, crying, or other vocalizations
- Hypervigilance, constant scanning
- Inappropriate urination or defecation
Noise aversion in pets
The most common anxiety type—affecting up to two-thirds of dogs—is noise aversion, a phobia or fear of specific noises that causes a rapid and intense anxiety response. Common noises that affect dogs include thunder, construction, sirens, fireworks, smoke alarms, doorbells, and vacuum cleaners. The dog immediately reacts anxiously to the noise and, in severe cases, may panic, and harm themselves or others. Pets should be treated for noise aversion, regardless of severity, because the signs will likely worsen with each additional exposure. Up to 88% of noise-averse dogs also develop separation anxiety, another condition that must be treated to maintain your dog’s mental and physical health.
Noise aversion treatment in pets
Noise aversion is usually treated with medications and behavioral modification, but your veterinarian will first rule out and address medical conditions, including hormonal disease or chronic pain, before starting anxiety treatment. Medications are given daily or situationally to reduce anxiety and stress, which is necessary before pets can learn and benefit from their behavioral training. Once they have made a noise-aversion diagnosis, your veterinarian may recommend the following treatments:
- Management — Your pet’s exposure to the noise should be reduced as much as possible. Encourage your pet to shelter in an interior room or basement, and play soothing music or white noise to drown the outside noise.
- Medications — Daily anxiety medications can decrease overall anxiety, while situational medications, which are rapid-onset and contain sedative and anti-anxiety properties, can be given alone or in combination with daily medications.
- Desensitization —This training technique slowly introduces pets to their trigger noise, starting at a low volume or intensity that doesn’t cause a negative reaction, and then gradually increasing the volume to slowly habituate the pet to the noise. Desensitization is usually combined with counterconditioning.
- Counterconditioning — This therapy pairs a negative stimulus, like a scary noise, with a positive reward, like food. Over time, the pet begins to associate the scary noise with the positive food item, and the fear response fades.
- Adjunctive therapies — Pressure wraps (e.g., ThunderShirts), pheromones (i.e., Adaptil), and calming supplements (i.e., L-theanine, flower extracts, hydrolyzed casein) can be helpful for some dogs.
Living with anxiety—preparing pets for noisy events
Ongoing treatment can help your anxious pet feel better, but you can take additional steps at home to improve their wellbeing and protect them from disaster. Consider the following:
- Keep anxious pets indoors — Leave anxious pets in their familiar home environment, instead of taking them to noisy fireworks shows or sporting events that may trigger their anxiety.
- Microchip your pet — Noise-averse pets are likely to get lost, because they may panic and run away from their triggers, especially during events such as July Fourth celebrations. Microchipping permanently identifies your pet and increases their chances of a safe return.
- Address anxieties prior to known events — If you believe your pet is noise-averse, talk to your veterinarian well in advance of a suspected trigger event, and start treatment right away.
Anxiety and noise aversion can make life scary for your dog, but you can help them cope by recognizing their distress and treating them appropriately. If your pet is showing anxiety or noise aversion signs, call our office to schedule a visit with your Town and Country Animal Hospital team.