Sights, Smells and Sounds That Stress Your Pet

Dog watching TV in the dark
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We live in a world chock-full of arresting — and often overwhelming — sights, smells and sounds. But while you can block all that background static with state-of-the-art Bose headphones, your pets have no choice but to soak it all in.

From noise emitted by fluorescent light bulbs to overpowering air fresheners, there are many things that may seem innocuous to us — but can negatively affect your dog or cat's stress levels. Here's a look at some common sensory pet stressors.

Pet Sensory Offender #1: Noise Pollution

First, some background: Humans hear in the range of about 20–25,000Hz, while dogs fall in the 67–45,000Hz zone and cats in the range of 45–64,000Hz. Our voices come in at about the 300–3,000Hz range, so what this means is that there are lots of shrill sounds that can really bug your dog or cat.

Excessive or loud noises can create what is known as acoustic stress, which affects felines, in particular, since they can hear very high tones — about 1.6 octaves higher than humans and one octave above dogs. Compact fluorescent light bulbs, light dimmers, some CRT and LCD displays (computers, televisions, etc.), and tea kettles are all potential sources of high-frequency noise pollution that you may not even be aware of — unless you can hear like a cat.

If you really want to get serious about reducing ultrasonic noise pollution for your pets, start by turning everything down a notch — or three. TVs, iPods, video games, washing machines and dryers can all stress out noise-sensitive species, such as dogs and cats. Another tip that I practice with my own pets is to play low-volume classical music when they’re home alone. Believe it or not, there are even pet-specific composers out there creating stress-busting music for pets!

Pet Sensory Offender #2: Intense Odors

A cat’s sense of smell is estimated to be about 14 times more sensitive than ours. But that’s nothing compared with a dog’s powerful sniffer, which is thought to be 1,000 to one million times more powerful than a human nose. So there are plenty of aromas that could easily turn a dog or cat's tummy or tempt their taste buds — but we wouldn't even notice them.

Some potential sources of offensive (and often stressful) smells include cigarettes, carpet fresheners, cleaning agents and disinfectants, potpourri, hair spray and perfumes, scented litter and a host of air fresheners. So instead of masking an unpleasant odor, try to remove the source of the foul smell.

I know that's easier said than done, but a tiny trace to us is like an elephant-sized funk to some animals. I’m so sensitive about this that I even train my staff not to wear perfumes or scented deodorants to avoid upsetting my pet patients. Seriously.

Pet Sensory Offender #3: Visual Overload

Although our pets don’t get stressed by the murder and mayhem plot lines of crime shows before bedtime, the bright lights and moving images can light up their visual cortexes. So even though your dog or cat appears to be snoozing at your feet as you watch TV, they’re actually in stand-by mode, monitoring all the commotion.

My advice: If you want your pets to enjoy restful, restorative sleep, go to bed earlier, turn off the television and power down your smartphone, iPad and laptop. Help them (and you!) de-stress from a sensory-packed day by finally unplugging.

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