That's right, the beloved American tradition of shooting off fireworks every Fourth of July is nothing more than a scary, anxiety inducing prison term for many noise-sentitive dogs. We already know that loud noises can cause stress levels to rise in people, so it only makes sense that pets are also susceptible to noise-triggered anxiety. With the Fourth of July upon us, those of us with dogs who show obvious signs of distress when noise invades their space may need to give some extra attention to the pooch if they’re living close to a spot where fireworks are launched.
I once had a pug named Maggie who suffered from noise-related anxiety, and the Fourth of July could be a miserable occasion for her. Fireworks blasting away, sometimes for an entire weekend, meant Maggie needed a quiet space in our home to which she could retreat. She also needed a lot of soothing talk and lap time, which is just not easy for a working person. I came to find out later, it’s not the most beneficial thing I could have done for her either.
In fact Maggie's fear of fireworks earned her a spot on the local 6:00 evening news one early July evening in a segment on how some dogs can't cope with fireworks noise. Our Vet recommended her for the spot; he knew she'd perform and she did. She trembled in fright as they turned on and then off a recording of fireworks throughout the demonstration and I swear her teeth were chattering. Maggie could not be calmed, despite a very kind and protective veterinarian holding and calming her throughout as he described to the viewing audience the harmful impacts of noise on our pets' health and discussed some measures people could take to calm their noise-phobic doggies.
Fireworks were Maggie's nemesis, and she proved it on television. She didn't run from the vacuum, and thunderstorms didn't bother her, but fireworks threatened to send her to an early grave. Literally.
Many dogs are hyper-sensitive to loud noises like thunder, air traffic, and yes, fireworks. Some animals are so perturbed by noise they can lose control of their senses and even become destructive if they can’t find a spot that feels safe to them. The hard surfaces common to modern home interiors – wood, tile, granite and concrete fixtures, stainless steel appliances - can combine with high ceilings to create an echo chamber of loud and scary.
Although some dogs have a history of noise-provoked trauma that can explain their inability to cope with loud sounds, there are plenty of dogs with no known history of trauma that can have a phobic relationship to noise. Researchers believe particular breeds of dogs may be more susceptible to noise sensitivity than others, and if you think about it, humans aren’t so different. Loud, unexpected sound triggers the fight or flight response in humans and animals, which causes the heart to pound, the pulse to race, and anxiety to heighten.
Signs of noise-related stress in pets can include taking a potty break in the livingroom, panting, pacing, drooling, trembling, dilated pupils and incessant barking, any one of which can raise a whole new set of problems. Some pets may try to escape the noise that is stressing them out by acting recklessly - some dog owners have stories of their frightened pups jumping through windows, digging at floors, and even attempting to chew through walls in their urgency to escape the noise.
If they become so agitated by noise that they head for an open window or claw at the floor as if to tunnel out, imagine what the stress is doing to their little hearts and nervous systems.
This Fourth of July, if the fireworks trigger anxiety in your pet, be careful not to do anything to reinforce their reactionary behavior. Prolonged exposure to noise loud enough to trigger anxiety can lead to serious health problems for your pet. Noise sensitive dogs need to learn to cope with noise if they're going to live long, healthy lives.
When your dog is reacting irrationally to noise, dog behavior experts say any type of response, whether loving and gentle, or angry and punishing will reinforce their poor behavior. Giving your pet any kind of attention, whether positive or negative while he’s responding badly to noise does nothing to help him learn how to cope and manage stress.
Petting or cuddling your pet to get them through the fireworks, thunder storm, or whatever is contributing to their noise-induced anxiety attacks – exactly what I was guilty of doing for Maggie - will provide the dog with no incentive or tools to cope. In fact, it confirms to her that her fears are legitimate, and that maybe the noise can hurt her. Although it might seem cruel not to reach out to your pet when they’re frightened by noise, to do so may only be robbing her of the ability to adjust. Obviously punishment should never be considered an option, and it would do nothing more than elevate the pet's anxiety level.
My other dog Niles, a rough and ready little Brussels Griffon had no issues with noise. Nothing fazed Niles, there were no dangers too fierce for this curly red-haired, 12 pound superhero-in-his-own-mind; but it pained him to see Maggie feel threatened by noise. Niles was a complete enabler, his instincts to stay close to her and lick her until the noisy threat was gone did her no favors, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I thought it was the cutest thing in the history of the world.
But repressing a dog's ability to face the source of fear (noise) and learn how to handle it without turning into Cujo for the duration is critical in her long term well being. By providing your dog with opportunities to learn coping skills makes sense, and you can begin by looking to see what acoustical challenges in your home might be an easy fix, and taking measures to cut down reverberation and echo in some spaces.
Try changing the environment in at least one room in your house to create an oasis where your dog knows he or she can go to ride out the Fourth of July firecrackers or the teenager-next-door’s garage band practice. You may be able to help your pet cope with their noise-driven stress levels by affording them a room or a spot in which the noise is diminished and they can relax. The dog will learn quickly to retreat to the “quiet room” when noise begins to stress him, and in doing so he will have established a coping mechanism that he can perform on his own.
See if you can figure out the source of your dog’s stress-filled reactions to noise, if you haven’t already. Observe her behavior and make a note of her reactions to noise in various situations. If you can predict what situations will trigger her anxiety in the future, you can make a conscious effort to help her work through her noise phobia, or at least figure out how to self-comfort.
Some dogs are predictable; their stress is triggered by the sound of a vacuum cleaner, or the roar of a jet plane overhead. Then again, we've all known dogs who bark at air with great gusto, as if they know something dangerous that the rest of us are somehow missing, but that's an issue for another day. You can’t do anything about the jet plane noise, and in fact you can’t quit vacuuming either. I found some great tips online for helping your dog learn to cope with noise from Holly Nash, DVM, MS Veterinary Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc.
Once you have Identified what kind of noise makes him most anxious:
Try to use "desensitization" to help your dog to overcome noise phobia or anxiety. For example, if your dog is afraid of thunder, try playing a recording of thunder at very low levels. Reassure your dog that everything is fine and no harm will come to him. As he relaxes and does not show any signs of anxiety, gradually increase the volume. This technique requires time and patience for it to be effective. Remember to praise and reward him for remaining calm.
Another way is to try to distract your dog during a thunderstorm by playing his favorite game with him. This will take his mind off the noise and can help calm his anxiety as well.
It is also helpful if you try to talk to your dog softly and reassuringly when he is having an "anxiety attack". You may also consider playing some calm and soothing music before the possible onset of an anxiety attack. For example, if you know a thunderstorm is approaching, start playing some soothing music before the storm starts.
Most Americans love the Independence Day fireworks, but that doesn’t mean their pets do. As a pet owner, you are a steward of his health and well-being. But before your reach out to cuddle him through a noise-driven anxiety attack, consider how you can guide him to adopt coping skills. Provide him with a quiet space to which he can retreat when the volume is just too much, and trust that he can learn the skills that will keep him alive and healthy for many years to come.
Noise, normally defined as 'unwanted sound, has been redefined by the Luxembourg-based Expert Panel on Noise (EPoN) as such: Noise is audible sound that causes disturbance, impairment or health damage.
I find it to be a pretty profound assertion in light of the many studies regarding the effects of noise on health – particularly heart health – published in recent decades that all conclude in varying degrees that noise is killing us. It reminds me of all the years the tobacco companies were pussy-footing around the dangers of cigarette smoking. For decades they got away with ambiguous public health warnings like "Cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your health," and suddenly someone put their foot down and made them change the labels.
"Warning: Cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease and emphysema."
It looks like researchers just keep fiinding new information about the adverse health effects of noise, and it's definitely squirm-worthy.
A new study conducted by physicians from the Danish Cancer Society and published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS ONE) - a scientific journal out of the UK - found a “clear relationship” between noise and escalated risk for heart attacks. The PLoS ONE study of more than 50,000 Europeans produced some grim findings for residents of our noisy planet: with every 10 decibel rise in volume over 60 decibels, the risk of heart attacks to folks exposed to the noise source increases by 12 percent; 80 decibels translates to the sound of an annoying buzzing alarm clock - not as loud as you'd expect from a decibel level capable of contributing to heart disease, right?
So if you're exposed to noise even louder than an annoying alarm clock for long stretches of time in your day-to-day life, your heart is taking a beating and you may not even realize it.
The link, according to study leader Mette Sorenson, Ph.d., looks to be noise-induced stress causing sleep disturbances - sleeps disturbances play a significant role in the noise-heart attack cocktail. Sorenson was actually more specific, pointing to high traffic noise as the stress inducer that leads to sleep disturbances, that lead to an increased risk of heart attack.
There have been plenty of studies in recent decades measuring the effects of noise on health. Some studies have already claimed that noise might be a contributing factor to heart attacks, but few were willing to step out on the limb and slap a scary warning sign on noise, until now anyway. Noise is inescapable in too many places. People are so conditioned to living with noise, there hasn't been an urgency to do something about it until very recently when too many of us realized we were losing our hearing, losing our ability to think clearly in a crowded restaurant, get a good night's sleep; plus, the anti-noise movement has became more and more visible. In the Danish study, the test group was massive - 50,000 people, and researchers claim they found conclusive evidence of an association between residential exposure to road traffic noise and heart attack risk. Of course it has to be road traffic, the most ubquitous noise source on earth, instead of something you can avoid, like sonic booms in the Everglades.
Life isn't always fair, let's face it.
I worry about the effects of noise on my heart all the time. My father, brother, and sister all died of heart attacks; my brother and sister at inexplicably young ages, non-smokers and seemingly healthy. Just last week, my brother-in-law suffered a fatal heart attack at age 63, and he never smoked a cigarette in his life. He’d had a first heart attack about 10 years ago, and ignored his physician’s recommendations for bypass surgery.
As I’ve said before, writing about the health related ramifications of noise over the past three-plus years has turned me into a bit of a hypochondriac, compounded by the fact that I just moved into a duplex directly under the flight path of a major U.S. air force base. But I feel fine, really.
So, according to Sorenson, this study narrowed the noise-heart attack association to none other than regular residential exposure specifically to road traffic noise, which is the noise source on which she based the 10-decibel increase / 12 percent higher risk to the well being of our tickers.
“It shows a clear dose response relationship,” she was quoted telling a Daily Mail reporter.
And, if that's not enough to send you searching for an isolation chamber you can cart around with you, according to another recent study by the World Health Organization (WHO), noise from rail and road transport is linked to 50,000 fatal heart attacks every year in Europe and 200,000 cases of cardio-vascular disease.
That bears repeating: 50,000 fatal heart attacks annually, and 200,000 cases of cardio-vascular disease – and these are the numbers that can definitely be linked to noise, accounting for roughtly 10 percent of Europe’s health care budget.
WHO researchers claim that slightly less than two percent of heart attacks in high income European countries can be attributed to traffic noise levels higher than 60 decibels. Still, cardiovascular disease is the largest cause of death in the EU and accounts for approximately 10% of national healthcare budgets.
Sorenson gives us reason to hope though, by stating that sleep disturbances in and of themselves can contribute to cardiovascular disease risk, which would lead to a hypothesis that exposure to noise during the night might be more harmful than daytime exposure. So maybe the answer is to sleep in a quiet place?
Sorenson also pointed out that that changes in lifestyle caused by disrupted sleep could play a role in the heightened risk of heart attack as well. For instance, she says that stress and sleep disturbances can cause changes to lifestyle habits, including increased tobacco smoking, thus a potentially stronger association between traffic noise and heart attack among smokers.
But before we all breath a collective sigh of relief and go back to blaming heart attacks solely on cigarettes and poor sleep habits, Sorensen said her study did indeed find indications of an escalated rate of heart attacks in people subjected to road traffic noise who never smoked. Gotcha!
The population targeted for this study consisted of people who lived mainly in urban areas, and researchers did not rule out that other factors could be at play. But they kept coming back to traffic noise as the real culprit.
"Traffic noise in cities is an important public health issue,” said Ann Stauffer of the Health and Environment Alliance headquartered in Brussels, Belgium.
In addition, evidence shows that noise escalates incidents of stroke, especially in the older population, and affects children’s ability to learn.
New data on the harm noise is reaping on our bodies is surfacing every day it seems. The next step is to raise the awareness flag, get medical professionals in on the discussion, and become activists for establishing effective anti-noise legislation. People need to become proactive about lowering the planet's decibel levels.
And find a place to sleep that's quiet, if you can. Go on, save yourselves!
Noise is weird. And just as science seems to catch up with new information regarding the effects of noise on humans, some new weird factor is called into play.
Most people today understand that noise can affect humans negatively, but not everyone realizes that harmful noise is not limited to those sounds that make everyone’s pulse race and ears hurt, like police and ambulance sirens racing through the streets, loud amps and speakers at heavy metal concerts, and the ear-piercing shriek of a NASCAR event. These sounds glean the same reactions from most caught in their path, and it’s rarely a good one.
But less in-your-face sounds can be just as troubling to our hearing and health as the obvious noise offenders listed above. A growing body of scientific evidence confirms that the chronic din of ambient construction noise, road repair projects, airline traffic and even neighborhood lawn equipment is chiseling away at our sensitivity to sounds every day, and the results are not good, even if we stopped noticing them.
Noise, defined as unwanted sound, is largely a matter of individual perception. For instance, the sound of car-rocking rap tunes blasting from a passing auto are going to get a different response from the vehicle’s passengers than the residents of the quiet residential street through which it’s passing at 11:00 at night. In fact, individual perception has made it difficult to provide scientific proof of the health effects of noise, since the reaction to many sounds is going to depend on sensitivity and personal perception.
Still, study after study has found that noise in communities is interrupting our sleep, interfering with our children's learning, suppressing our immune systems and even increasing our chances of having a heart attack.
And experts on the effects of noise on our health are quick to remind us that we should not have to tolerate living with noise.
Everyday noise is under the radar, yet it affects everyone's life. No one would agree to live with “just a little” sewage in their water, so why should anyone tolerate noise pollution coming into their ears?
For instance, when your neighbor uses a leaf blower in his yard, he may be generating a sound that is only a little less intense than the 85 decibels that the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) says is physically damaging over a period of hours, but still more than loud enough to make it almost impossible for anyone within earshot to concentrate.
Modern transportation -- cars, motorcycles, trains, trucks and air traffic -- accounts for most of the background noise that disturbs and even sickens people.
More than 40 percent of Americans whose homes have any traffic noise at all classify that noise as "bothersome," according to the 2005 American Housing Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. One-third of those say the noise is so bothersome they want to move. All told, more than 100 million Americans are regularly exposed to noise levels in excess of the 55 decibels that federal agencies have deemed reasonable in background intensity.
One Dutch analysis combined the results from 43 studies that tracked chest pains, heart attacks and related problems with community noise levels. Using a statistical technique called meta-analysis, it concluded that there is "a slight increase in cardiovascular disease risk in populations exposed to air traffic and/or road traffic noise."
Even if chronic exposure to noise is unlikely to kill you, it can simmer under the surface and take a toll on your well-being.
Studies have shown that chronic night noise not only leaves you fatigued, irritable, and struggling to concentrate the next day, it also activates the stress response as you sleep. And while the number of awakenings per night may decrease as you adjust to the noise, increased heart rate, blood pressure and breathing changes persist.
In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has claimed that the idea that people get used to noise is a myth. Even when we think we have become accustomed to noise, biological changes still take place inside us.
High levels of mechanical noise, such as that from a hospital's own air-conditioning equipment, can delay recovery in patients -- a reflection of the immune suppression that comes with an activated stress response.
Another insidious effect of noise is its cultivation of what scientists call "learned helplessness." Children given puzzles in moderately noisy classrooms are not only more likely to fail to solve them but are also more likely to surrender early, according to a Cornell University study. The implications of learned helplessness on a child's success in life can be quite powerful.
Perhaps most disturbing in these times of political and economic polarization is that noise undermines generosity.
In one study, people were less likely to help someone pick up a bundle of dropped books when the noise of a lawn mower was present. Another showed that in a noisy environment, people playing a game were more likely to see their fellow players as disagreeable or threatening. Yet another found a decrease in helpful behavior when loud "annoying music" was played.
Interestingly, helpful behavior increased when similarly loud "uplifting music" was played.
Which brings us back to the weird thing about noise: its mysterious psychological component.