The researchers examined cases of dogs that had developed sensitivity to variations in noise volume, pitch, and occurrence, and found they also had associated musculoskeletal pain.
The undiagnosed pain could be exacerbated when auditory stimuli makes the dogs tense or jump, placing extra stress on muscles or joints that already are inflamed, causing further pain, according to the study.
That pain is then associated with a loud or startling noise, leading to sensitivity to noise and avoidance of situations where they had a previous bad experience, such as at a local park or in a loud room at home.
According to the researchers, veterinarians should give any dog with a behavior issue a thorough physical exam to determine that if pain is a factor, it can be diagnosed and treated, and the behavior issue can then be addressed.
In the study, all dogs that experienced pain and were treated showed improvement in behavior.
Pain, behavior issues, and the onset of pain
“Although the average ages of the dogs were similar, the average age of onset of the problem was nearly four years later in the clinical cases,” said Daniel Mills, BVSc, Ph.D., from the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences. “This strong theme of an older age of onset 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.
“These results are consistent with the suggestion that whenever there is a late age onset to a behavior problem, medical issues including those related to pain, should be carefully evaluated. It is worth owners being aware that once pain is successfully managed, the previously learned associations with noise may persist and require their own targeted behavior modification program.”
Researchers assessed two groups of dogs that presented with noise sensitivity: those that had already been diagnosed with underlying musculoskeletal pain and those that hadn’t.
In both cases, the presenting signs of the dogs’ behavioral issue included shaking, trembling, and hiding, but those with a diagnosed pain issue also showed a higher level of avoidance when it came to places where they had a previous bad experience with noise.
The dogs with musculoskeletal pain also started to show signs of fear of noises much later in life than the control cases, and were on average four years older than their pain-free counterparts. Noise triggers ranged from fireworks, thunderstorms, and aeroplanes, to gunshots, cars, and motorbikes.
Veterinary student Ana Luisa Lopes Fagundes from Centro Universitário de Belo Horizonte in Brazil led the research at Lincoln as part of Brazil’s Science Without Borders.
“The aim of the study was to explore the presenting signs of dogs with generalized noise sensitivity with and without pain in their muscles or joints,” she said. “We think that dogs with this sort of chronic pain may experience the noise quite differently, 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.
“We found that these dogs which had pain do indeed show different signs; in particular they seem to form much wider associations with the noise. For example, they would often tend to avoid not just the place where they had the bad experience but much larger areas, too. These dogs also tended to avoid other dogs as well. The findings of this study are really important because they contribute to the dog`s welfare and improved behavior as pain could be identified and subsequently treated.”
The findings are published in Frontiers In Veterinary Science.