If Your Pet Could Talk, She'd Beg You to Get These Things Out of Your Home
By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker
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Remember learning in elementary school that dogs have super-tuned hearing that’s much more sensitive than your own? Animal experts now know that cats, too, can be acutely sensitive to high-frequency sounds.
In today’s world, things we absorb as a matter of course are amplified to sensitive animal ears, and they’re forced to deal with them on a daily basis. In the past, there also weren’t the scores of machines and devices that either emit or alert you with noises to scare, confuse and often deeply disturb the pets we love.
Only a matter of decades ago, technology as we know it today — at least to the degree we know it today — didn’t exist. There were no personal computers, cell phones or Smart Meters, and no power lines, electric lighting, wireless routers or smoke detectors.
There weren’t blaring TVs, radio and stereos, but there also weren’t flickering light bulbs, particularly from LED bulbs, which introduce a completely separate set of issues. When it comes to your pets, noises connected to our technology may be an auditory cacophony that may include strobe-like effects.
Ultrasound: You Can’t Hear It but It’s Driving Them Crazy
Dr. Katherine Houpt, an environmental factors expert at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, observes that many dogs are afraid of smoke alarms even when they don’t seem to be making any noise. “So the dog is going crazy and the owner doesn’t know why.”
Dangerous Decibels explains a little of how frequency and amplitude work for humans: Amplitude is measured in decibels (dBA) of sound pressure and measures how forceful the wave is. Zero dBA is the softest a human can hear; speaking voices are around 65 dBA, and a rock concert might reach about 120 dBA.
Feline Audiogenic Reflex Seizures
While it’s completely different for dogs, who can hear sounds up to 45,000 Hz, cats can hear up to 64,000 Hz, a sensitivity that can even cause feline audiogenic reflex seizures. According to a study on the epileptic episodes, without treatment for the cats:
“Many owners reported a slow decline in their cat’s health, becoming less responsive, not jumping, becoming uncoordinated or weak in the pelvic limbs and exhibiting dramatic weight loss. These signs were exclusively reported in cats experiencing seizures for (more than) [two] years, with owners stating these signs affected their cat’s (quality of life).”
The study noted more than a dozen high-pitched sounds (some you wouldn’t think of in those terms) commonly heard in households and associated, to lesser or greater degrees, with epileptic problems experienced by 96 cats for at least a year. Depending on circumstances, avoiding the noises eliminated seizures in 72 of the cats:
Crinkling of tin foil, paper or plastic bags
The sound created by a dog scratching its neck and jangling its collar
A metal spoon dropping into a ceramic feeding bowl
Tapping of glass, coins or keys
Computer keyboard tapping or mouse clicking
The clicking of an owner’s tongue
The short, sharp scream of a young child
A mobile phone ring or digital alarm
Flickering Lights: We Might Not See It, but Maybe They Can
As of 2014, 40 percent of the $26 billion market share of LED (light-emitting diodes) in the U.S. began taking over residential as well as architectural and outdoor applications, according to Zion Market Research, which reports that this type of lighting is 10 times more efficient than incandescent lighting, with brightness and lifespan of the product also exceeding that of fluorescent lighting.
For pets, though, it comes at a price, because whether or not a human can see one particular flaw in this type of lighting, they come with the problem of flickering, on and off incessantly, whether they’re set on dim or full brightness, like a constant disco ball that never stops, added to the high-pitched whine. If your animals could talk, they might call it a double whammy of sensory overload. I believe captive birds are especially sensitive to the negative emotional effects of synthetic lighting.
One expert says the flickering of LED lights is what you get with cheap parts; CNet.com notes that LED bulbs are direct current devices running on alternating current (AC) power that needs to be converted before it feeds the LEDs into the bulbs, and that’s where the problem likely begins.
Something called the critical flicker fusion (CFF) threshold — the frequency a light needs to emit to be considered a steady light source — can be as low as 24 Hz or flickers per second. To the human eye, it’s a “fluid” transition when watching, for instance, online video. Dogs see it differently, however, having, again, a more sensitive CFF of 80 flickers per second, or 80 Hz, which is why most dogs usually busy themselves with something else rather than plopping down in front of the TV.
The effect these types of flickering lights have on dogs and cats is, as yet, unknown, but researchers have uncovered some interesting data, especially since Richard Inger, Ph.D. from the University of Exeter says it effects other animals. A study that took place at Sacramento City College in California and Southwick's Zoo in Mendon, Massachusetts, showed that the humanly indiscernible light show might incite fear in animals.
There’s a rating site called LEDBenchmark.com that lists ratings of the flicker of many LED lights, with lower numbers in both flicker percent and flicker index being the most desirable to minimize the problem, aside from switching to non-LED lighting. As technologies progress, there’s not much likelihood that we can set aside all the “bells and whistles” that make our households run more smoothly, either now or in the foreseeable future.
- But with every new innovation, new construction or refurbishment on homes and businesses, it makes sense to consider the impact certain aspects of it are having on your pets. Things you can do to reduce the electronic pollution in your home include:
- Switch devices off at the plug or actually unplug them, which also saves on phantom power draw
- Dedicate one room in your house as a “quiet room,” with no electronics, wireless routers or LED lights
- Place home media equipment in a closet or garage to isolate ultrasound, as well as the whine and - buzzing noises, which may be heard clearly by your pet
- Shop for LED lights with low flicker ratings or switch to other sources of lighting (including incandescent), which is my recommendation