Noise aversion (i.e., anxiety or phobia) is a common but often overlooked condition in dogs and cats. Affected pets can experience mild to extreme stress and anxiety, which can negatively impact their quality of life, strain the pet-owner bond, and result in harmful or destructive behavior. 

If your pet is unusually frightened by specific noises, help them find peace and quiet with this noise aversion guide from the Companion Veterinary Clinic team.

What is noise aversion in pets?

For most pets—and people—a loud or unexpected sound triggers a reflexive startle or flight-or-fight response. But, once the pet determines what made the noise and realizes no threat exists, their behavior and physiology (e.g., heart and respiratory rate) return to normal. In a noise-averse pet, an upsetting sound triggers an exaggerated and maladaptive (i.e., unhelpful for survival) response, such as cowering in a corner, pacing, or frantically digging up the carpet. Noise-averse pets also take longer to recover from the scare, and their signs may continue hours after the upsetting noise has subsided.

Noise anxiety increases stress levels in affected pets and can ultimately lead to injury if the pet panics and attempts to escape their crate, home, or yard. Without treatment, noise aversion can worsen and progress to other problems such as separation anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder.

What causes noise aversion in pets?

Noise aversion causes aren’t completely understood and, because a pet cannot tell us why they are scared, we have to rely on their breed history, early life, and traumatic or negative experiences to explain their anxiety or fear. 

However, we do know some causes and contributing factors, which include:

  • Genetics Herding and pointing breeds appear more susceptible to noise aversion.
  • Socialization — Early and positive exposure to sound stimuli can help pets be more resilient as adults. 
  • Negative association — Some pets possibly pair traumatic or unpleasant experiences with a specific sound, and form a negative emotional response. 
  • Age-related changes — Senior pets with declining sensory or neurologic function may become noise-averse.

What are noise aversion signs in pets?

Noise aversion can range from mild to severe, with a whole spectrum of emotional distress and clinical signs. Mildly affected pets may seem only uneasy or highly aware (i.e., jumpy, hypervigilant), while true noise-phobic pets may experience panic-attack-level terror. Sadly, because many pets manifest their terror with inappropriate behavior, their owners seek training instead of veterinary care and delay their pet’s treatment and may increase their stress.

Signs, from mild to severe, include:

  • Panting or drooling
  • Lip licking
  • Yawning
  • Pacing or restlessness
  • Trembling
  • Hiding
  • Hypervigilance
  • Attention-seeking behavior
  • Vocalizing
  • House soiling
  • Attempted or successful escape
  • Destructive behavior (e.g., chewing, digging, scratching)

Unusual behavior or personality changes can indicate additional health issues, including pain and serious illness. If your pet is acting abnormally, schedule an appointment at Companion Veterinary Clinic.

How is noise aversion diagnosed in pets?

Noise aversion diagnosis relies on a thorough patient history, a full physical examination and, if indicated, diagnostic blood work to assess your pet’s internal health. As with other anxiety disorders, your pet’s veterinarian will rule out medical causes for your pet’s behavior before diagnosing noise aversion.

How can I help my noise-averse pet?

Effective noise-aversion management requires a multi-pronged approach that focuses on reducing your pet’s anxiety, minimizing their exposure to upsetting stimuli, and changing your pet’s emotional response.

Your pet’s treatment will be customized according to their severity and signs, but most treatment plans include:

  • Medication — Anxiety-reducing medications can help mitigate your pet’s phobia-related fear and stress. Sileo, which is an oral mucosal gel applied to the pet’s gums, is the only medication designed and approved to treat noise aversion in dogs but, unfortunately, is not available for cats. Medication may be given as-needed, or daily to severely affected pets.
  • Environmental management — At-home modifications and wearable pet products can reduce your pet’s exposure to upsetting stimuli. Some strategies include:
    • Safe room — Create a small interior space where your pet can stay during noise events, such as fireworks, thunderstorms, or home renovations. 
    • Music or white noise — Calming sounds and rhythms can mask or soften upsetting sounds.
    • Calming pheromonesAdaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats promote calmness and relaxation by mimicking natural pheromones.
    • Wearable itemsBody wraps and noise canceling headphones for dogs can provide tactile comfort and reduce external sounds. 
  • Behavior modification — While medication and management can help pets during the actual noise event, training is crucial for long-lasting and effective resolution. The desensitization and counterconditioning (DS/CC) method gradually helps pets learn neutral or positive responses to previously upsetting stimuli. DS/CC is a lengthy process and must be conducted carefully to avoid setbacks, so we recommend using a veterinary behaviorist or experienced trainer for severely affected pets.

Your pet will not outgrow or gradually get over their noise aversion. Rather, their fear will likely intensify and negatively affect their quality of life. So, help your pet get the relief they deserve by scheduling an appointment at Companion Veterinary Clinic.