Should You Play Music or Leave the Television on for Pets While You're Away?
A veterinarian gives us the scoop on the soothing effects of noise buffers to ease separation anxiety.
Dealing with a dog or cat with separation anxiety is no easy feat. That's why so many pet owners create noise buffers—like turning on the radio or television—in the hope that this will keep their animals cool and calm when they're away. "According to a 2017 study from Psychology & Behavior, certain types of music reduced anxiety and had a relaxing effect on dogs," says Dr. Ruth MacPete, veterinarian and author of the award-winning children's book Lisette the Vet. "Researchers found that classical music reduced anxiety in the dogs, helped them sleep more, and bark less, whereas heavy metal music made them more anxious, sleep less, and bark more."
Our experts say that, in some cases, noise buffers can ease your dog or cat's anxiety, but they add that this technique alone may not be effective enough for patients experiencing an underlying anxiety disorder. "If your pet does have an anxiety disorder that is affecting his/her quality of life, the first step should be to discuss this with your veterinarian," says Dr. Vanessa Spano, DVM at Behavior Vets. "As certain behavioral training techniques and medication may be a more appropriate first-step." Not sure whether or not you should leave the TV or music on for your pets while you're away? We asked both vets for advice on creating noise buffers for our furry friends, and here's what she had to say.
Start with a white or brown noise machine.
According to Dr. Spano, you should consider a white or brown noise machine to test the effects of sound buffers on your pet safely. "Monitor how your dog does with the noise machine at home with you first," she says. "If you perceive your dog can relax with the noise buffer, then you can try leaving it on when your pet is home alone."
Play the right genres of music.
Not all music has the same soothing effects on animals—which is why our vets say it's important to know your audience. "A 2017 study from Psychology & Behavior found that dogs preferred soft rock and reggae," Dr. MacPete says. "While a 2015 study from Applied Animal Behavioral Science found that prefer music that mimics the rhythmic and tonal qualities of a purr, or a kitten suckling its mother's teat."
Try pet-friendly music.
If a white noise machine does not seem to make a difference on your animal, Dr. Spano suggests playing canine or feline-specific music to calm your pet. "Calming music, such as classical music or music designed for canines, like Through a Dog's Ear, can help dogs that are scared of certain outdoor noises, including sounds coming from hallways of apartment buildings."
Keep the volume low.
"Dogs can hear sounds four times farther away than humans and can hear high-pitched sounds well above the range of human hearing," Dr. MacPete says. "Play music at low volume and choose music they like. Ask yourself, does your pet hide with certain music, or appear relaxed and rub against the speakers?"
Provide mental stimulation.
While techniques like playing calming canine music, turning on the TV, or running white noise machines are great tools to try out buffering sounds on pets, Dr. Spano recommends keeping your four-legged friend's mind busy, too. "If you perceive your dog is bored when home alone, consider leaving lots of enrichment for them at home, such as toys and puzzle feeders," she says.