Summer is the perfect time for cookouts, lazy days by the pool—and noise aversion? The term “noise aversion” describes an irrational response to loud noises, such as thunderstorms, fireworks, or construction. Roughly two-thirds of dogs are afflicted with noise aversion, although this condition often goes undiagnosed, largely because owners are not aware that this phobia can be managed. Cats can also be affected by loud noises, although they typically do not show visible signs like dogs. Before the July Fourth festivities—and fireworks displays—learn how to identify and manage noise aversion in your pet.

What types of pets are most likely to develop noise aversion?

While any pet can develop noise aversion, certain dog breeds, including herding breeds like border collies, are more likely to show sensitivity to loud sounds. Hunting breeds, such as German shorthaired pointers and retrievers, are typically more stoic. Pets who are generally anxious or high-strung are also more likely to develop noise phobias, as well as pets with chronic pain, such as osteoarthritis pain. The theory is that pets wince or tense up during loud noises, which can cause pain and lead to a future fear response.

What does noise aversion in pets look like?

Noise aversion signs are seen in conjunction with loud noises, and generally are similar to signs in pets with anxiety. Some common noise aversion signs you may see in your pet include:

  • Vocalizing (e.g., howling, whining, barking, meowing)
  • Heavy panting
  • Drooling
  • Trembling
  • Pacing
  • Hiding
  • Staying close to your side
  • Behaving destructively
  • Eliminating inappropriately
  • Attempting to escape

Some pets are so fearful of loud sounds that they harm themselves or run away and become lost during an ear-splitting event. Thunderstorms and fireworks shows cause the most anxiety, and can instigate pets to attempt to escape through doors or windows.

While spotting noise aversion is easier in dogs, cats can also show distress signs during loud events. If your feline friend darts under the couch when you turn on the vacuum, or shows dilated pupils and flattened ears when construction starts on your street, they likely have a noise phobia.

How can I help my noise-aversive pet at home?

Like many behavior issues in pets, noise aversion, left untreated, can progress and worsen. So, while your dog may cower in fear when the fireworks begin this July Fourth, next year, they may progress to howling, defecating inside, and clawing at the bedroom door.

Typically, at-home noise aversion management focuses on changing your pet’s response to loud sounds through desensitization and counterconditioning. Desensitization involves gradually increasing your pet’s exposure to their trigger, whether thunderstorms, a vacuum, or fireworks, so they become less reactive. Throughout the desensitization process, counterconditioning creates a positive association with the loud sound by rewarding your pet with a high-value treat after being exposed to their trigger at a low volume. If they show no reaction, they receive their reward. As the pet becomes more comfortable with the noise, the volume is increased. This patient process will help the pet become less reactive to their trigger, and you can successfully manage their fear.

Additionally, you can focus on minimizing your pet’s exposure to loud sounds. For example, give your pet a quiet place to relax at home during a storm—ideally, a room without windows—where you can distract them with a long-lasting treat and soothing sounds, such as a radio or TV. Some pets may also benefit from relaxing pheromones diffused in the room, or from a compression wrap that applies pressure to calming points on the body.

What if at-home management isn’t enough for my noise-aversive pet?

Sometimes, despite your best efforts at home, your pet may still show anxiety and distress at loud noises. In these cases, your veterinarian can administer a short-term anti-anxiety medication prior to a scary event, such as a thunderstorm or fireworks show. For pets with generalized anxiety, long-term anti-anxiety medication may help mitigate their daily stress, which may make your at-home management techniques more effective.

Does your pet cower in fear at the sight of the vacuum? Do they go running when you fire up the blender for your morning smoothie? If so, help prepare them for the sounds of this year’s July Fourth extravaganza by scheduling an appointment with our Pierson Pet Hospital team.