Pet Science

Can Home Electronics Harm Your Pet? A Veterinarian Reveals What To Turn Off

If it means keeping our dog happy, we’ll never let the microwave timer hit zero.

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Pet Science

Sirens, thunder, vacuum cleaners, and fireworks can wreak havoc on your pet. Subtler sounds — ones that don’t even register to human ears — may also affect them. But how can you know what your pets can hear, especially if you can’t hear it yourself? Understanding your pet’s hearing capabilities and the quiet cacophony of your home could help identify any nuisances.

Do noises from electronics bother my pet?

If something bothers our pet, it often shows up in their behavior. Katherine Houpt, professor emeritus of behavioral medicine at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, recounts to Inverse one instance she remembers about one couple whose dog “suddenly began to pace.” Worried, “they took it to the emergency room where they had a huge bill. But they noticed that as soon as they left the house, the dog was fine.”

It turns out this couple, who were elderly and had become hard of hearing, couldn’t hear their smoke alarm chirping for fresh batteries.

She also warns that pets might be conditioned to react to beeps and buzzes. Invisible Fence, for example, trains a dog to stay in an unfenced yard with a collar that plays a tone if the dog approaches specified boundaries. If the dog crosses that threshold, the collar delivers a light electrical shock, deterring the dog from ever leaving the yard on its own. One unintended consequence, Houpt says, is that the dog may begin to take cues from out-of-context sounds.

“There are some dogs that don't like the beeps from the microwave,” she says. “Dogs may confuse the sound of an appliance with the sound of their Invisible Fence collar saying, ‘If you take another step, you're going to be shocked.’”

However, she’s not aware of any cases in which animals responded poorly to high-pitched sounds emitted by household electronics.

What can my pet hear that I can’t?

Cats can hear frequencies, or pitches, up to 64,000 Hertz and dogs up to 45,000 Hz, compared to a human’s mere 20,000 Hz.

A 2015 UK-based survey published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery assessed potential causes of seizures in cats with a condition called feline audiogenic reflex seizures. Sounds like ringing phones, a metal spoon dropping into a ceramic bowl, tapping on glass, rustling paper or plastic bags, computer keyboard typing, and tongue clucking all evoked seizures in the 96 cats surveyed. This condition is far more severe than simply being bothered by a sound, but it demonstrates how highly sensitive an animal’s hearing is.

A 2005 study also found that ambient laboratory sounds can mess with animals’ endocrine and sleep cycles — though you probably don’t live in a laboratory. To the point, we can’t always see how sounds affect an animal; they may not even suffer from ambient noise.

How can I protect my pet from these noises?

Sadly, we can’t protect our fur babies from absolutely everything that frightens them. While you could opt for quieter vacuum cleaners or even stand vigilant by the microwave as it counts down to make sure it never dings again, the best you can do is observe how your pet behaves around certain gadgets or in response to switching something on.

“People should bear in mind when they add something to their household — whether it's another dog, an electronic appliance, or a child — they should think about what effect it will have on the dog so that they can be prepared in case the dog reacts badly,” Houpt says.

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