Is your pet unsettled by loud noises?
Does the vacuum cleaner send them into deep seclusion?
Do fireworks spark frantic pet behavior?
Can a summer storm trigger a swath of destructive digging and chewing?

If you answered “Yes” to these questions, your pet may be suffering from noise aversion, which is an anxiety disorder that causes severe, often dangerous, panic in response to loud or sudden sounds. Noise aversion is a common topic at Billings Animal Family Hospital, especially during the summer months, yet the condition is a year-round problem for pets.

To help you understand your pet’s distress, we answer your most frequently asked questions in this convenient guide to noise aversion in pets.

Question: Why is my pet frightened by noises?

Answer: Noise aversion causes are not entirely understood, although a genetic component is suspected, because the condition seems more common in herding and pointing breeds. Inadequate exposure to novel sounds early in life can also impact your pet’s ability to cope with unfamiliar or loud noises. Finally, pets can associate specific sounds with negative experiences, which may be entirely unrelated (e.g., a thunderstorm that the pet associates with fear or apprehension during their ride home from the adoption center).

Q: What sounds are most upsetting to noise-averse pets?

A: Although loud, sustained sounds such as thunderstorms and fireworks often create the most dramatic responses, pets can be sensitive to a variety of sounds. The most common include:

  • Thunder
  • Fireworks
  • Heavy equipment (e.g., construction, trash trucks)
  • Sirens and alarms
  • Social gatherings
  • Sporting events
  • Household appliances
  • Digital devices

If your pet’s noise aversion originates from a negative association, literally any sound can become a trigger for fear, anxiety, and stress.

Q: How can I tell if my pet is anxious about a certain sound?

A: For many pets, noise aversion signs are obvious. Severely affected pets frequently hide, attempt to escape, or exhibit classic stress signs, such as panting, drooling, shaking, or pacing.

However, noise aversion signs can be more subtle and misinterpreted as bad behavior, such as house soiling or destructive behavior (e.g., chewing, scratching, digging), which are common pet stress indicators.

Q: Should I ignore my pet’s behavior?

A: Your pet will not outgrow or eventually overcome their noise aversion. Instead, untreated pets typically become increasingly hypersensitive to other sounds and may develop generalized anxiety disorder.

Unmanaged noise aversion can also put your pet at risk for serious injury or death, since panicked pets often escape from their homes or yards, are hit by a car, or injured while trying to flee. Fearful or anxious pets should be microchipped to ensure they can be returned home if they run away and get lost.

If your pet struggles to cope with loud or unexpected noises, early diagnosis and intervention can prevent serious harm. Contact Billings Animal Family Hospital to schedule an appointment.

Q: How can veterinary care reduce my pet’s noise aversion?

A: Noise aversion is diagnosed by exclusion, meaning your veterinarian will rule out other health conditions that are associated with similar clinical signs, such as pain, age-related sensory decline, and illness.

If your veterinarian diagnoses your pet with noise aversion, they can recommend a combination of pharmaceutical and therapeutic treatments to reduce your pet’s stress. They can also advise you how to desensitize your pet and teach them new and positive responses to previously scary sounds.

Q: What can I do at home to support my anxious pet?

A: Effective noise-aversion management requires a multi-pronged, veterinarian-supervised approach. Anxiety-reducing medications must be paired with behavior modification and calm-promoting therapies to ensure long-term success.

Noise-averse pets can greatly benefit from an at-home support system that includes:

  • Preparation — Try to anticipate unavoidable noise events such as storms, fireworks, and social gatherings by staying informed about local weather and news. If your pet receives noise anxiety medication, consider starting a day or two in advance.
  • Confinement — Create a safe zone where your pet can escape from the frightening noises. Ideally, this would be a small interior room, closet, basement, or a covered crate. Make the space positive by spending quality time there with your pet, rewarding them for going into their safe zone, or confining them with a long-lasting treat or chew on quiet, stress-free days. Take your pet to their safe zone before a noise event begins to prevent a negative association. 
  • Noise reduction — White noise or calming music can muffle upsetting sounds and help pets relax.
  • Distractions — Long-lasting treats, chews, or food-stuffed hollow toys (e.g., Kongs or West Paw Toppls) give nervous pets a positive focus and promote natural endorphin release.
  • Reassurance — Despite common misperceptions, comforting your nervous or stressed pet does not worsen their fear or reinforce their behavior. Talk to your pet calmly in a soothing tone while petting or holding them to provide gentle physical reassurance.

Noise aversion doesn’t have to mute your pet’s quality of life. With early diagnosis and a combination of stress-reducing therapies, your pet can find calm in the storm. However, if your pet continues to respond to noise events with abnormal stress and anxiety, request an appointment at Billings Animal Family Hospital.