You’ve likely seen your furry pal dive under the coffee table when the vacuum comes out, or seek shelter in your closet during a thunderstorm, but did you know this specific fear has a name? Noise aversion is a common, yet underdiagnosed, condition that affects cats and dogs. Many pet owners believe their pet’s fear of loud sounds is normal and fail to mention it during a wellness visit or other veterinary appointment, but this condition is something that should be managed to prevent unnecessary stress for your four-legged friend. Left untreated, noise aversion can escalate and become more severe, and also cause permanent neurologic changes. 

What is noise aversion in pets?

Noise aversion is defined as a stress reaction when faced with loud sounds. Pets, especially cats, can display noise aversion in subtle ways, or they can be more vocal and demonstrative in their fear. Common sounds or events that trigger noise aversion include:

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

Seemingly innocent sounds can cause a noise-averse pet to have the equal of a panic attack. And, pets who are sensitive to one sound or loud event are generally susceptible to fear of other unsettling noises.

Are some pets more likely than others to develop noise aversion?

While any pet can develop noise aversion, some pets appear more prone to becoming fearful of loud sounds. Some of the following reasons can predispose a pet to developing noise aversion:

  • Breed — Certain breeds are more apt to display noise aversion. For example, herding breeds, like border collies, are more sensitive to loud noises than hunting breeds, such as German shorthaired pointers.
  • Genetics — In addition to certain breeds, particular bloodlines in a breed can predispose a pet to noise aversion. A fearful mother can also cause their puppy or kitten to develop fear, stress, and anxiety. 
  • Upbringing — The socialization period for puppies and kittens during their first few months shapes their world outlook. An unpleasant or downright terrifying situation with loud, startling sounds can make them fearful for the rest of their life. For example, a 10-week-old puppy who is taken to a July Fourth fireworks display without a slow introduction to the cacophonous sounds can easily develop lifelong noise aversion to fireworks and other loud sounds. 
  • Concurrent anxieties — Pets with other anxiety conditions are also more prone to developing noise aversion. According to a noise sensitivity study, a dog who is fearful of loud noises will be three times more likely to show separation anxiety. Additionally, these sensitive dogs are 18 times more likely to show fearful signs in novel situations, and are four times more likely to take a longer time to calm down after stressful situations.

What are noise aversion signs in pets?

Noise aversion signs can be difficult to detect in pets, particularly in cats. Each pet displays anxiety and fear in a different manner, so watch your pet closely when loud sounds startle them. You may notice any combination of the following noise aversion signs:

  • Heavy panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vocalization
  • Hyperalert attitude
  • Pacing
  • Trembling
  • Clinging behavior
  • Hiding
  • Uncontrolled urination and defecation
  • Digging, chewing, or attempting to escape
  • Aggression

While a pet who suffers from generalized anxiety can display these signs at any point, a pet with separation anxiety typically shows them when left alone. A pet with noise aversion will demonstrate their anxiety when faced with a loud sound. To determine if your furry pal has noise aversion, separation anxiety, or generalized anxiety—or a combination—evaluate the situation in which your pet is indicating anxiety, fear, and stress.  

How can I manage my pet’s noise aversion?

Taking steps to manage your pet’s noise aversion can help reduce their fear and keep them calm throughout a noisy event, such as July Fourth or a summer storm. Try the following tips to help soothe your pet’s fears:

  • Swaddle your pet — Outfitting your pet in a compression wrap acts much the same as swaddling an infant. The wrap applies pressure to calming points on your pet’s body to help relieve their stress.
  • Play white noise — Nature sounds, classical music, or music specifically designed to calm pets can help muffle loud noises.
  • Distract your pet with treats, toys, and games — A distracted mind has little room for fear, so keep your pet occupied with a long-lasting treat, food puzzle, or interactive game.
  • Consider anti-anxiety medication — Anti-anxiety medications can help calm your pet without sedating them, and can be beneficial for pets with any degree of noise aversion.

Noise aversion can cause serious physical and behavioral issues in pets, and can change their brain if left untreated for an extended period. Help your furry pal manage their fear of loud sounds by scheduling an appointment with our Tamberly Animal Hospital team.