If your dog runs and hides from fireworks or starts to tremble during a storm, you’re not alone. Most dog owners recognize that their dogs react fearfully to some noises, but many do not realize this is a diagnosable and treatable—and prevalent—phobic anxiety condition. As a result, many affected dogs go untreated. Most will worsen over time, so our Terra Linda Veterinary Hospital team shares the facts about noise aversion to empower dog owners to help their stressed-out pets.

#1: 67% of dogs suffer from noise aversion

Studies show that around two-thirds of dogs are noise-sensitive. Some have minor reactions, while others panic and hurt themselves while attempting to escape the situation. Researchers aren’t sure why so many dogs become noise-sensitized, but breed and genetics may play a role. Dogs may gradually become overly sensitive to noises, associate a specific noise with another stressful event, or develop a noise sensitivity secondary to other anxiety problems. Whatever the cause, the problem is difficult to reverse.

#2: Most noise-averse dogs go undiagnosed and untreated

A noise-averse dog’s signs can vary significantly, depending on their tendencies. Some will panic, destroy the house, or hurt themselves during escape attempts, while others want to hide or cling to their owners for comfort. Signs may be as subtle as repeated lip-licking or yawning and difficult for pet owners to recognize.

Most noise-averse dogs go undiagnosed, because pet owners don’t discuss the problem with their veterinarians. Dogs with mild to moderate cases typically don’t respond to noise daily, and may respond as infrequently as once or twice yearly. Still, these dogs suffer when events do occur and would benefit from treatment. Bring this completed checklist to your next veterinary visit and our team will discuss your pet’s clinical signs.

#3: Many noise-averse dogs suffer from other concurrent anxiety conditions

Noise aversion, storm phobias, separation anxiety, and general anxiety go hand-in-hand in dogs, who are likely to develop more than one of these anxiety conditions, diminishing their quality of life and damaging their human-pet relationship. Recognizing noise aversion in your dog is a reminder that you must pay close attention to and treat their behavioral and emotional needs, and be proactive about treating other anxieties they may develop. 

#4: True noise aversion always worsens without treatment

Many pet owners feel that their pet can handle the occasional noisy night or that the more their pet hears a noise, the less afraid they will become. Unfortunately, noise aversion always progressively worsens—each time your pet hears their trigger noise, the abnormal response in their brain becomes more robust and automatic, and the fear center activates the fight-or-flight response and deactivates the rational thinking brain areas. Treatment focuses on preventing this activation, which allows pets to relax and use their brains to learn a new, positive noise response.

#5: Medications are a mainstay for noise-averse dogs, but not a complete solution

Medications are necessary for almost all noise-averse dogs, because nothing else will “turn off” the fear center in your pet’s brain during a panic episode. Situational anti-anxiety and sedative medications can also be used during noise events, and some pets benefit from daily anti-anxiety medication that lowers their overall anxiety level.

Medications are best used in conjunction with environmental management and behavior modification techniques. Environmental management, which helps control exposure to trigger noises, may include the following:

  • Providing a safe, quiet place, insulated from noise
  • Playing music or white noise to drown out the trigger noise
  • Spraying pheromones on your pet’s bedding or in the room
  • Applying an anxiety wrap (i.e., ThunderShirt)
  • Using calming supplements (i.e., L-theanine)

#6: A trainer or behaviorist can offer your noise-averse dog the best chance for recovery

Professional dog trainers and veterinary behaviorists can develop training and behavior modification programs that help noise-phobic dogs reduce reactivity over time. These programs require strict dedication and ongoing efforts to remain effective, and do not work well for all pets. Most programs expose dogs to recorded noise in a slow, controlled manner and pair them with treats or other rewards. Ask our team for a referral to a local professional who can help.

Your anxious, noise-averse dog isn’t alone, and we can help them feel better with medications and other treatments. Contact the Terra Linda Veterinary Hospital team to schedule a behavior consultation before this summer’s noisy events, or for more tips that will help your noise-averse pet.