Noise Aversion May Indicate Pain in Dogs

March 30, 2018
Kerry Lengyel

A new study suggests that veterinarians should routinely assess dogs presenting with noise aversion for musculoskeletal pain.

Pets that are sensitive to noises, including fireworks, thunder, gunshots, road work, shouting, and vacuum cleaners, can exhibit responses ranging from panting and hiding to aggression, destructiveness and self-injury. Although noise sensitivity has been suggested as an indicator of pain in people, the phenomenon has not been examined in animals.

Results of a new qualitative content analysis study by animal behavioral scientists from the University of Lincoln School of Life Sciences in the United Kingdom have shown that the development of noise aversion may be associated with underlying pain in dogs. The study’s findings were published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science.

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Ana Luisa Lopes Fagundes, a veterinary student at the Centro Universitário de Belo Horizonte in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, led the research team as part of Brazil’s Science Without Borders program. The study’s aim, she said, was to explore the presenting signs of generalized noise sensitivity in dogs with and without musculoskeletal pain.

“We think that dogs with this sort of chronic pain may experience the noise quite differently,” she said, “because if the noise makes them startle it may cause them to tense their muscles and as consequence they feel pain associated with the noise.”

Study Methodology

Two groups of 10 dogs each presenting with noise sensitivity were assessed: 1 group had previously been diagnosed with musculoskeletal pain (clinical cases) and 1 group (controls) had not. Both groups were similarly mixed with regard to breed, sex (no female dogs), and temperament; the dogs presented with signs of noise aversion that included shaking, trembling and hiding, and both groups were triggered by a wide range of noises.

Findings and Implications

Dogs that had been diagnosed with musculoskeletal pain showed a higher level of avoidance with locations where they experienced a noise trigger compared with dogs without underlying pain. Importantly, although the average age at presentation for noise aversion was similar between groups, the onset of the problem in painful dogs was about 4 years later than in the dogs without pain (painful dogs, 6 years, 6 months; pain-free dogs: 2 years, 8 months).

The investigators noted that “this strong theme of an older age of onset [of noise aversion] 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.” They recommend that when behavior problems begin in older dogs, a medical cause—potentially related to pain—should be assessed.

“The findings of this study are really important,” Lopes Fagundes said, “because they contribute to the dog's welfare and improved behavior as pain could be identified and subsequently treated."