Why normal noises could be stressing your dog

·5 min read
Dogs can find common household noises stressful. (Getty Images)
Dogs can find common household noises stressful. (Getty Images)

Your dog may have just survived the stress of bonfire night, but new research has revealed that common household noises could be impacting pets almost as much. 

While it is well known that sudden loud noises - such as fireworks or thunderstorms - can trigger anxiety in dogs, researchers say that pets can also become stressed when exposed to everyday noises, like the ping of the microwave or switching on the hoover.

Researchers at the University of California (UC) found that certain common household noises could be stressing or even hurting pet dogs.

When it comes to the kind of noises that impact dogs more, the study found that high-frequency, intermittent noises - such as the battery warning of a smoke detector - are more likely to cause dog anxiety than low-frequency continuous noise.

Commenting on the findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science, study lead author Dr Emma Grigg, a research associate and lecturer at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, said: “We know that there are a lot of dogs that have noise sensitivities, but we underestimate their fearfulness to noise we consider normal because many dog owners can’t read body language."

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Noises like the microwave pinging can be stressful for some dogs. (Getty Images)
Noises like the microwave pinging can be stressful for some dogs. (Getty Images)

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In order to find out the impact noise had on dogs, the research team conducted a survey of 386 dog owners about their pet’s responses to household sounds.

The scientists then examined recorded dog behaviours and their owners’ reactions from 62 videos that were made available online.

The study found that owners not only underestimated their dogs’ fearfulness, but the majority of owners in the videos responded to their dogs with amusement rather than concern for their welfare.

Dr Grigg explained: “There is a mismatch between owners’ perceptions of the fearfulness and the amount of fearful behaviour actually present.

“Some react with amusement rather than concern.

“We hope this study gets people to think about the sources of sound that might be causing their dog stress, so they can take steps to minimise their dog’s exposure to it.”

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According to Dr Grigg, the common signs that a dog is experiencing anxiety include cringing, trembling or retreating.

The animal behavioural expert went on to explain that for some dogs, it may be harder to tell if they have been triggered and owners should make sure they know the lesser-known symptoms of anxiety.

For example, some dogs may uncontrollably pant, lick their lips, turn their head away or even stiffen their body.

In other instances their ears will turn back, and their head will lower below their shoulders.

Dr Grigg added that because dogs have a wider range of hearing, some noises could also be potentially painful to hear, such as very loud or high-frequency sounds.

She says that minimising the exposure to these noises may be simple as changing batteries in smoke detectors more frequently or removing a dog from a room where the loud noises might occur.

“Dogs use body language much more than vocalising and we need to be aware of that," Dr Griggs adds. 

“We feed them, house them, love them and we have a caretaker obligation to respond better to their anxiety.”

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New research has revealed owners can't always spot if their pets are stressed out by common household noises. (Getty Images)
New research has revealed owners can't always spot if their pets are stressed out by common household noises. (Getty Images)

How to spot if your dog is stressed

As well as certain sounds, there are some other factors that could be influencing how stressed our pets are feeling right now, with the pandemic having a particular impact. 

"Now that life is slowly returning to normal, we are seeing topsy turvy behaviour from both our dogs and cats," explains Dr Rory Cowlam, vet and author of The Secret Life Of A Vet.

Dr Cowlam says many pets are suffering from separation anxiety as owners struggle to get them used to being left alone at home.

"Not only have our pets developed their own issues from constant company and lack of socialisation with their own species but they have also been feeding off our own anxieties, worries and concerns," he adds. 

"We know that dogs and cats are hugely tuned into our emotions and we even have evidence to suggest that when we are stressed, out pets get stressed too!"

While Dr Cowlam says 'mental health' is not something we can really recognise in dogs and cats, it is possible for owners to look out for behavioural changes and anxiety driven behaviours, which can be exhibited in a number of ways. 

"Inappetence, not wanting to get out of bed, over-grooming to the point of pulling their own hair out, cystitis (urinary issues), colitis (diarrhoea), aggression and nervous behaviour are just some of the things we can see in pets with anxiety," he explains. 

If you do spot your pet is appearing to be stressed, Dr Cowlam says the best thing to do is to try and keep a routine, make sure your pet feels safe at home and speak to your vet or a veterinary behaviourist to try and help alleviate the issues your pet could be facing.

Additional reporting SWNS.

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