Monday, May 7, 2012

How Sensory Overload Stresses Out Pets

By Linda Cole

Let's face it. Today's world is a noisy place for us and our pets. Unfortunately, the sensory input our pets experience on a day-to-day basis can be causing them stress. All of the noises, smells and sights we encounter are usually taken in stride by us, but can be a bit much for our furry friends.

A cat's sense of smell is fourteen times stronger than ours, and a dog surpasses our sense of smell by 1,000 to 10,000 times, depending on the dog's breed. When it comes to hearing, dogs can hear sounds at around 80 feet while our ears only hear effectively at 20 feet. Dogs can pinpoint direction in just six-hundredths of a second and calculate the distance of sounds much better than we can.

Dogs and cats hear more frequencies, with cats capable of hearing high frequency sounds dogs can't hear. A cat's hearing is so precise they can hear a mouse three feet away and knows where it's at just by sound. Felines hear sounds about five times farther away than we can. In short, pets are more aware of all of the sounds around them and their nose also keeps them well informed. It's no wonder they can hear you opening that bag of CANIDAE treats!

Too Much Noise

We don't think about the everyday sounds we encounter. We're so used to hearing them that we don't notice how noisy the world is until we shut everything down for the night. If our pets had their way, they would ask us to tone it down a couple of notches. We tune out a lot of noise, but pets can't do that.

Most homes have at least one TV on when someone is home. Radios, stereos, videos on the computer, video games and cellphone ringtones all produce noise pollution inside the home. The dishwasher, washing machine, dryer and microwave seem innocent enough to us, but it's what we can't hear that can be annoying to pets. To them, the lower the volume, the easier it is on their sensitive ears. Pets are listening to outside sounds as well. That's a lot of noise for them to contend with. If your pet gets up and leaves the room, it could be because they need to find a quiet place where they can relax and unwind.

Too Many Odors

Think about all of the smells we sniff each day in and around the home. A pleasant and relaxing smell to us may not be received as well by our pets. The fragrances used in air fresheners, household cleaners, deodorant, cologne, perfume, hairspray, carpet fresheners, incense, fabric softeners, potpourri, cigarette smoke and scented cat litter can irritate a pet's nose, sometimes to the point of making them sick. And it's not just irritating scents that can get to them. Imagine how good a skillet of frying bacon must smell to a dog or cat!

Too Much TV

One of my cats loves to sit beside me while I'm working at the computer. She likes to watch the pet videos I find on different websites. Her eyes dart back and forth as if she's trying to watch all of the movements on the screen at the same time and sometimes, she seems captivated by what she's watching. Pets that watch TV or videos on the computer are stimulated by what they see. However, they don't see what we see and too much stimulation can cause their visual cortex to go into overdrive.

Our world can be noisy for pets and all of the noises, scents and visual stimuli can cause them to become stressed out by everything their senses are picking up. We don't notice that the blaring TV is bothering a pet because we're usually wrapped up in the storyline and action. Because cats and dogs have better hearing than we do, loud noises hurt their ears. Pets can be allergic to the same kind of allergens that bother people, and we can have a host of different smells in the home that can upset our pets. We should take a cue from pets and be more careful with products we use in the home because some are unhealthy for us to inhale.

Even though pets have an amazing ability to adjust to our world, sensory overload can be stressful to them. Sometimes we just need to turn everything off and cuddle with them in peace and quiet.

Photo by Greg Loesch

Read more articles by Linda Cole


  1. I usually leave a downstairs radio on low when I go to work, at least during the months the windows are closed because it's too cold. Last week I was home all one day, waiting for a service person to show up, had the windows open. My goodness, our small townhouse complex is NOISY during the day. I didn't realize just how noisy, till I tried to take a short nap. I wonder if it bothers the cats.

    What I do know bothers one of my two cats is the new neighbours. They have 2 young children with behavioural issues and the screaming, door-slamming, pounding tantrums that the boy has almost every single day gave Derry another bout of idiopathic cystitis last month. Unfortunately there's NO soundproofing between units and it's just miserable living next door to them. Sound reduction insulation is way out of my budget, as is moving. I've spoken with the mom, who really is quite nice, and she knows there's a problem, but alas, that doesn't resolve it.

    So yes, "sensory overload" certainly can stress our fur companions--as well as us!

  2. I have noticed how well my cats can hear and some of them loud noises such as the washer, make them go hide. In fact one of the cats leaves the house when I do laundry. Great post.

  3. We live in a pretty busy household, lots of comings and goings and lots of little grandbipeds around. We do pretty well with all of that, but we do get stressed at holiday time when there are lots of extra bodies around and lots of big loud conversations. Mom makes sure to let us go outside when things get really hectic or take us for good long walks.

    Woos - Phantom, Thunder, Ciara, and Lightning

  4. My ears are pretty sensitive so I keep things pretty quiet most of the time, other than a few short music blast and a few hours of TV. Brut is my dog with the hyper sensitive ears and has a hard time with the TV and will usually end of leaving the room. It helps that I can't take a lot of noise, so it really makes me aware of the dogs and cats sensitivity as well.

    Great post. Something most don't think about.

  5. Good post! Because this is generally a quiet household, Austin reacts quite strongly when there is noise. Especially rustling noises lol

  6. Great article. We have good ears (for humans), so we tend to speak softly and keep things on low volume. But our Moosey is super noise sensitive, and can get nervous when he hears stuff outside.


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