Youngsters are fond of saying, “If it’s too loud, your too old”. You probably had that attitude when you were young, and concerns like hearing damage seemed trivial or nonexistent. However, as a responsible pet owner, you need to care for the ears of your pet as well as your own.
We know dogs’ sense of hearing is much more sensitive than ours. Does that mean that they are more affected by loud noises?
Does loud music hurt a dog’s ears?
There’s been surprisingly little research into the impact of loud noises on dogs’ ears. Most of what we know comes from our understanding of our own ears. However, there are case studies of dogs with hearing loss due to loud noises.
Physical Pain vs. Hearing Damage
There are two ways loud music can hurt a dog’s ears. The first, and most obvious, is by causing physical pain to the dog’s ears. This occurs with very loud noises.
It’s unlikely your music will be loud enough to cause your dog pain. However, hearing damage is another matter. Sounds much too low to cause physical pain in humans can cause significant hearing damage. So, depending on how loud the music is, it’s possible for it to hurt your dog’s ears by causing hearing loss.
How Dog’s Ears Function
Your dog’s ears are surprisingly similar to your own. Both have the same basic structures, and both are susceptible to pain from loud noises and hearing loss.
The outer ear is made of the pinna and the ear canal. The pinna is the outer structure of the ear, and may be covered by hair or fur. The ear canal is the visible inner structure of the ear.
The pinna funnels sound through the ear canal and to the eardrum. Dog’s pinna are mobile, where humans are fixed. A dog’s ear canal is also longer and deeper, allowing it to funnel sound more efficiently.
Dogs rely heavily on their sense of hearing. It’s about 4 times as sensitive as a humans, and dogs can detect much higher frequencies than the human ear. This is why dog whistles are inaudible to us, but audible to your dog.
The middle ear contains the eardrum and a small chamber that contains the hammer, anvil, and stirrup ossicles. These are tiny bones that can be damaged by excessively loud noise.
The inner ear includes the cochlea, which is responsible for hearing, and the vestibular system, which is responsible for balance.
Sound from the eardrum goes to the cochlea. It’s a fluid filled sack that has 15,000 hairs in humans, and 25,000 in dogs. Nerve endings turn the vibration into electrical impulses, which are then transported to the brain via the auditory nerve.
Dr. Foss, a veterinary neurologist, performed three case studies on companion animals with hearing loss. One was a gun dog, another a hunting dog, and the third was a bomb sniffing dog.
One dog had permanent hearing loss, one received treatment and improved, and the third didn’t return for treatment. The damage was likely caused by close proximity to gunshots over time.
Hearing loss typically occurs when loud noises damage the sensitive hairs in the cochlea. Extremely loud noises can also damage the ossicles.
Signs of Hearing Loss
Your dog can’t tell you if they experience hearing loss. You won’t notice them turning up the TV, or shouting “what” when you talk to them. Still, there are signs that your dog is suffering from hearing loss.
A dog with hearing loss may become less obedient. This isn’t intentional. Instead, they simply can’t hear your commands. If they can’t hear them, they can’t perform them. You may notice that they ignore you when you are speaking to them. They may not respond to words like walk or food that would typically get them excited and wagging their tail.
They may stop reacting to sounds, like a vacuum, another dog barking, or a loud vehicle. They will likely be harder to wake from sleep, because the sounds won’t rouse them.
You may also notice emotional or behavioral issues. They may bark excessively, whine, or appear sad or depressed. Think of how you would feel if you lost one of your senses. Then consider that your dog doesn’t understand what’s happening, so they are also confused. It’s easy to see how this can impact their mental and emotional state.
A simple way to test your dog’s hearing is to enter a room quietly and clap. Clap loudly. If the dog doesn’t respond, they may have significant hearing loss. You can repeat this process at different times and different volumes to get an idea of how well your dog can hear.
Hearing loss can range from subtle to complete. Just because your dog can still hear loud noises doesn’t mean there’s no hearing loss.
Sound Induced Anxiety
On one end of the spectrum are dogs with a phobia of loud noises. These dogs may hide under the bed or show signs of intense fear when they hear thunder or fireworks.
On the other end of the spectrum is a dog that never seems to be bothered by noise. Gunshots, rooms full of people, and even rock concerts don’t phase them.
In the middle of the spectrum are dogs that can develop anxiety with too much noise exposure. This can be loud noise or quieter noise that keeps going over a period of time, causing sensory overload.
If you’ve ever needed quiet to decompress after a loud stimulating experience, like a kids’ birthday party, you can understand how your dog feels.
Signs of anxiety in dogs include shaking, pacing, destructive behavior, tail tucking, excessive barking or howling, and excessive drooling. If your dog is housebroken, accidents in the house can also indicate anxiety. Obsessive behaviors, like licking themselves, lip licking, and circling, can also indicate anxiety. A dog with compulsive behaviors will repeat the behavior frequently, and it often causes problems with their lifestyle or health.
If your dog displays symptoms of anxiety when you are playing loud music, consider turning it down. Your dog may also be affected by the music if they leave the room every time it comes on. They may be seeking a quieter area of the home.
Loudness vs. Intensity
There can be a big difference between loudness and intensity. Sound intensity refers to the number of decibels a noise is. Decibels are the measurements used to determine how loud a sound is.
Intensity and decibels are concrete measurements. However, loudness is subjective. You may find music at a certain level too loud in the morning, but enjoy it in the afternoon. You may not hear someone yelling in a room full of people talking, but you would notice and consider it loud in a quiet room.
How loud should music be around dogs?
Unfortunately, there’s no research into what noise level is safe for dogs. Instead, human guidelines are recommended for dogs. Considering that dogs have more sensitive hearing, the threshold for damage might be lower than for humans.
Decibels for Daily Activities
The easiest way to understand decibels is to look at how many decibels different activities are. Regular human conversation and dog barking is 60 decibels. A lawn mower is about 90 decibels, although it seems much louder on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Yelling into someone’s (or your dogs) ear is 110 decibels. Fireworks are on the louder end of the spectrum, at 140-150 decibels.
When it comes to music, a rock concert is usually around 120 decibels, although this depends on where you are located. Personal entertainment devices including cell phones, laptops, and headphones are 105-110 decibels.
How Loud is Too Loud?
When it comes to humans, hearing damage can occur at just 85 decibels. Generally, at this level, hearing damage occurs if you are exposed to the sounds for a long period of time.
At 90 decibels over an 8 hour time period, serious hearing damage can occur. Sounds at 140 decibles or higher can cause pain and immediate hearing damage.
A study in rodents found that they exhibit signs of distress at 100-10 decibels. Again, we don’t know exactly where dogs fall on the spectrum, but it’s safe to assume that their ears can be damaged as easily as ours, if not easier.
Do high pitch noises hurt dog’s ears?
Humans can hear sounds from 64-20,000 Hz. We best hear sounds in the 1,000-5,000 Hz. Dogs can hear from the 67-45,000 Hz, giving them nearly twice the hearing range we have.
Sounds can become uncomfortable for your dog at 25,000 Hz. Essentially, the higher the Hz and the louder the noise, the more uncomfortable it is for your dog. Sounds at the upper end of their hearing range, can cause your dog discomfort and pain.
High pitched noises are used in several applications. Dog deterrents rely on high frequency noise. It will startle and confuse the dog. It may irritate them or cause some discomfort. However, it isn’t believed to cause hearing loss, and the sound stops as soon as the dog is out of range.
Dog whistles also use a high frequency, often out of the range of human hearing. One reason they are effective is because they are easily distinguished from the daily sounds in the environment. This makes it easier to get the dog’s attention.
Surpisingly, dog food manufacturers have also experimented with high pitched noises. They use them in their commercials in an effort to draw dogs to the screen.
Does yelling hurt dog’s ears?
Yelling can be loud enough to be uncomfortable for your dog. Yelling near your dog’s ear has a decibel level of 110, which is certainly enough to cause discomfort and possible hearing loss.
Emotional sensitivity may be a bigger problem with yelling than tne noise level. Your dog is highly tuned to your emotional state and even your health.
When you speak or yell, they don’t just pay attention to your words, but your tone. If your dog hears anger or other unhappy emotions in your voice, it can be upsetting for them.
Consequences of Yelling At Your Dog
Yelling at your dog can cause them to develop fear or anxiety. It can fracture the bond you share, because they will feel unsafe and insecure. As a result, they may become harder to train because they don’t feel that they can please you.
It can also cause them to ignore your words. Just like humans, dogs have a stress response. Yelling raises cortisol, which indicates increased stress. Stress reduces the brain’s ability to think clearly and learn, which will be counterproductive to training your dog.