A new study published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science suggests that dogs with sensitivity to noise should be regularly assessed by a veterinarian for pain.
Many dog owners are familiar with the precautions taken around pyrotechnic holidays like the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve to keep skittish pups calm and comfortable. While noise aversion among dogs is a well-known phenomenon, researchers from the United Kingdom and Brazil suggest that, for many dogs, the problem may actually cause — and be caused by — physical pain.
The researchers found that dogs who developed noise sensitivity later in life often experienced joint or muscle pain. While these pains were initially unrelated to sudden, loud noises, the researchers found that those noises may make dogs tense up. This tensing action combined with underlying joint of muscle pains results in exacerbated pain which dogs then begin to associate with the noises. Over time, these dogs develop an stronger aversion to noises because they associate them with the pain of tensing painful joints or muscles.
The findings suggest that an aversion to noise that develops later in life may be a sign of underlying pain in a dog that may not otherwise show symptoms of a problem. The researchers suggest that owners of dogs who have developed a fear of noises later in life should have their dogs examined by a veterinarian for underlying conditions that may be causing them pain. Not only could this help treat the noise aversion itself, it may help to treat pain in dogs and, potentially, more serious underlying conditions.
“Although the average ages of the dogs were similar, the average age of onset of the problem was nearly four years later in the ‘clinical cases’. This strong theme of an older age of onset suggests that the pain may develop later in life and that owners seek treatment more readily, perhaps because the appearance of the problem is out of character in the subject. These results are consistent with the suggestion that whenever there is a late age onset to a behaviour problem, medical issues including those related to pain, should be carefully evaluated. It is worth owners being aware that once pain is successfully managed, the previously learned associations with noise may persist and require their own targeted behaviour modification programme.”
— Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioral Medicine, University of Lincoln