Study: Exploring Pain & Noise Aversion

Noise sensitivity, also known as noise aversion, phobia, or anxiety affects over 1/3 of dogs in the US1.  Noise triggers include fireworks, thunder, construction2, and other sounds with varying levels of loudness, pitch and suddenness.3 Clinical signs include panting, pacing, hiding, trying to escape, self-trauma and property destruction. Causes of noise aversion are not completely understood but can be associated with both genetic and environmental factors. 3-5 Noise aversion has also been associated with cognitive dysfunction and administration of corticosteroids.6,7 To explore the signs of noise sensitivity in dogs with and without musculoskeletal disease, Fagundes conducted a retrospective study involving 20 dogs.8 Ten of these dogs had noise aversion with concurrent musculoskeletal pain (“clinical cases”) and 10 dogs had noise sensitivity without pain (“control cases”).


Musculoskeletal pain was attributed to hip dysplasia (5), degenerative joint disease (4) or spondylosis in L2 and L3 (1). There was no difference in, breed, sex, temperament, number of triggers or types of clinical sign between the two groups or response to treatment.

Differences between the two groups included:

  • Age of onset was nearly 4 years later for the “clinical cases” versus the “control cases.”
  • “Clinical cases” were more likely to experience
    • Generalization to the environment and (8/10 versus 2/10 “control cases”)
    • Anxiety/avoidance of other dogs (8/10 versus 2/10 “control cases”)

All cases were treated with individualized behavior modification and psychopharmacology. “Clinical cases” were also prescribed NSAIDS and advice to manage/minimize pain. All cases showed improvement after treatment, except for one ‘clinical case” with hip dysplasia and history of noise aversion from 5 months of age; the owner elected not to administered analgesics. Eight clinical cases and seven control cases were considered resolved to their owner’s satisfaction.

The authors hypothesize that when dogs with musculoskeletal pain react to a loud noise, the normal startle response and subsequent tensing of muscles may exacerbate the pain. Additionally, the combination of noise aversion and pain could reduce the dog’s threshold to additional stimuli.

Clinical Relevance

When diagnosing noise aversion, veterinarians should look for underlying causes, including pain-related problems, especially if the dog presents later in life, showing generalization to the environment or develop problematic behaviors with other dogs. In cases where pain is identified, treatment with analgesic and anxiolytics is warranted.


  • Based on online survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Zoetis in November 2013 among 784 dog owners.
  • FR Market Research – Noise Aversion; February 2016; N=472 Dog Owners, N=454 General Practitioners.
  • Sherman BL, Mills Ds. Canine anxiety and phobias: An update on separation anxiety and Noise Aversions. Vet Clin Nor Amer: Small Anim Pract, 2008; 38: 1081-1106.
  • Murphree O, Dykman R, Peters J. Genetically-determined abnormal behavior in dogs: Results of behavioural tests. Conditional Reflex, 1967; 2: 199-205.
  • Overall KL. Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for dogs and cats. Elsevier Mosby, St Louis, MO. 2013; 256-261.
  • Landsberg GM, Deporter T, Araujo JA. Clinical signs and management of anxiety, sleeplessness, and cognitive dysfunction in the senior pet. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract (2011) 41:565–90. doi:10.1016/j.cvsm.2011.03.017
  • Notari L, Mills D. Possible behavioral effects of exogenous corticosteroids on dog behavior: a preliminary investigation. J Vet Behav Clin Appl Res (2011) 6: 321–7. doi:10.1016/j.jveb.2011.02.004
  • Fagundes ALL, Hewison L, McPeak KJ, et al. Noise sensitivities in dogs: an exploration of signs in dogs with and without musculoskeletal pain using qualitative content analysis Front. Vet. Sci. 5:17. DOI: 10.3389/fvets.2018.00017

This article is brought to you in collaboration with our friends at Zoetis.