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How Things We Take for Granted Could Frighten a Cat or Dog

Humans can easily be startled by a clap of thunder, so it’s no surprise that pets are scared too. But dogs and cats can also be frightened by common sounds, as well as people and objects that we take for granted as normal and harmless. It might seem strange that protective dogs are spooked by popping popcorn, or independent cats are skittish over the sound of a vacuum. But their anxiety is no laughing matter. Science bears out the fact that pets hear ultrasonic frequencies humans don’t detect and are therefore more sensitive. Maybe blending your smoothie hurts their ears!

You’ve probably already seen your pet's signs of stress: a tucked tail, flattened ears, wide eyes, raised fur, pacing and clinging. Symptoms often escalate into attempts to reduce fear: cowering, trembling, destructive behavior, like digging or chewing, aggression (growling, hissing, biting), losing bladder control, hiding or escaping. 

Signs of avoidance

Running under the bed for safety can be a pet's natural response to feeling threatened by a sudden sound from regular objects like hair dryers, ceiling fans, balloons and aluminum foil. Some pets even freak out over toys, duct tape, plastic wrap, stairs, beards, hats and certain people. Though we understand there’s no danger, they don’t. 

Pet phobias can be caused by bad experiences, early traumas or unfamiliarity. For example, dogs and cats might connect thunder with lightning and develop a negative association with bright flashes of light. But some fears are founded:

1. Spray bottles: water squirts used as discipline 

2. Veterinarians: strange smells, restraints, vaccinations

3. Strangers: lack of early socialization 

4. Delivery workers: territory trespassing

Methods for the madness

Avoid fears by patiently trying techniques that help pets cope and break the patterns:

1. Create a safe place: offer free access for escaping (dog door, cubbyhole)

2. Mask unnerving sounds: use the blender or blow dryer away from your pet; block noises with a radio or      TV; provide a distraction with games 

3. Replacement: move scary stuff out of your pet's vision; replace with favorite toys and treats

4. Desensitization: careful and gradual exposure to objects of fear

Dos and Don’ts

1. Don’t link petting or treats with fear. Wait for your pet to calm down.

2. No forcing. Be satisfied with gradual improvements.

3. Relax. As your stress decreases they’ll feel more confident. 

4. Consult with a professional for help if necessary.