Many pets—up to 67%, according to some estimates—are frightened or stressed by loud noises, which negatively impacts their quality of life. Our Animal Care & Emergency Services team knows how upsetting noise aversion can be for you and your pet, and we provide information about how to manage the condition.

What is noise aversion in pets?

Pets affected by noise aversion experience extreme anxiety and fear when exposed to certain noises. This sensitivity far exceeds dislike, and noise-averse pets suffer with panic–attack-level feelings that can lead to behavioral and health problems. Sounds associated with noise aversion typically are loud, difficult to localize, and lack any pattern. Common triggering noises include:

  • Fireworks
  • Thunderstorms
  • Sirens and honking horns
  • Lawn equipment
  • Smoke detectors
  • Vacuum cleaners
  • Crowd noise
  • Kitchen appliances

What causes noise aversion in pets?

Many factors can contribute to noise aversion in pets, but determining the inciting cause can be difficult. Potential contributing factors include:

  • Inadequate exposure to noise — Proper socialization is important for pets. Socialization involves exposing pets to as many sights, sounds, people, animals, and experiences as possible, starting at the age of 3 weeks. Without socialization when they are young, pets may have difficulty adapting to new situations, which puts them at increased risk for noise aversion. In addition, if the process is rushed or the pet creates a negative association, noise aversion can occur.
  • Illness — A pet who is sick or in pain may feel vulnerable and threatened by loud noises.
  • Traumatic experience — If a pet experiences a traumatic event and associates that episode with a particular noise, they may develop a noise aversion to that sound.
  • Advanced age — Cognitive dysfunction is a disease, similar to Alzheimer’s disease, that can affect senior pets, and can potentially lead to increased anxiety and fear in response to numerous situations, including noises. 
  • Genetic predisposition — Certain breeds, including herding and working dogs, seem to be predisposed to noise aversion.

Why is noise aversion problematic for pets?

Many owners don’t realize that their pet’s noise aversion can be serious. Consequences include:

  • Emotional impact — Noise aversion causes panic-attack-level anxiety and fear for your pet, which can lead to significant emotional trauma.
  • Health problems — Prolonged stress can cause health problems, including dermatologic problems, decreased immunity leading to increased susceptibility to infection, and urinary tract disorders.
  • Physical injury — Noise averse pets may violently try to escape when they hear a triggering sound, and could be physically injured. In addition, some pets become aggressive if they feel threatened or trapped, and may lash out and injure you or your family.
  • Behavioral problems — Noise-averse pets are more likely to exhibit unwanted behaviors, such as house soiling and property destruction.

How is noise aversion diagnosed in pets?

A noise aversion diagnosis is typically based on the pet’s behavior signals, but pets do express fear and anxiety differently, depending on their personality and their condition severity. Signs to look for include:

  • Mild — Subtle signs that may go unnoticed include lip-licking, yawning, panting, drooling, and lifting a front paw. 
  • Moderate — More recognizable signs include whining, cowering, shaking, seeking attention, looking worried, and hiding.
  • Severe — Severe signs include excessive vocalization, trying to escape, urinating, defecating, expressing anal glands, and behaving aggressively.

Since pets typically do not exhibit noise-averse signs during your veterinarian’s examination, videoing the event is helpful before you seek veterinary care. Your veterinarian may also want to perform other diagnostics, such as blood work and a urinalysis, to rule out an underlying condition and assess your pet’s overall health.

How is noise aversion treated in pets?

Unfortunately, no quick cure for noise aversion is available, and you must be patient when you address the condition. Management techniques include:

  • Noise avoidance — When possible, reduce your pet’s exposure to the triggering noise.
  • Safe haven — Create a safe haven for your pet where they can escape when they are frightened. This can be a windowless room, closet, or crate where your pet feels comfortable and protected. Make the space welcoming for your pet with their favorite blanket and toy, and feed them in this area so they make a positive association. 
  • Masking the noise — Play music or white noise to mask the upsetting noise.
  • Devices — Devices, such as close-fitting vests and earmuffs, benefit some noise-averse pets.
  • Behavior modification — Desensitization and counterconditioning can be used to reduce your noise-averse pet’s fear. This involves playing a sound track of the noise that triggers your pet (e.g., a thunderstorm) at a low volume that causes no reaction. If your pet remains calm, give them a high-value treat and profuse praise while the track plays for 10 to 15 minutes. Over weeks or months, gradually increase the volume, and let your pet get used to the noise. If they become fearful or anxious at any point, reduce the volume. Then, wait until the next session and try increasing the volume more slowly.
  • Avoid overreacting — When your pet is afraid, you want to comfort them, of course, but if you overreact, they pick up that they have good reason to be upset. Calmly offer reassurance, but refrain from excessively comforting your pet.
  • Never scold your pet — Scolding your pet when they are fearful only exacerbates the situation.
  • Medications — In severe cases, your pet may need sedatives or anti-anxiety medications to manage their noise aversion.

Noise aversion is a serious problem that only gets worse without treatment. If your fearful pet needs help, or injures themselves during a panic attack, contact our Animal Care & Emergency Services team, so we can ensure they receive the care they need.