Q: Since we updated our living room with a new wall-mounted television and LED light bulbs, Quincy, our 3-year-old dog, refuses to enter. We’re not aware of anything on TV that scared him. Is it possible that high-pitched electronic noises we can’t hear are hurting his sensitive ears?
A: Yes. Humans can hear frequencies up to only 20,000 Hz, but dogs hear up to 45,000 Hz, and cats perceive frequencies of up to 64,000 Hz. Electronic devices are designed for people, and many emit frequencies that are distressing to pets but beyond what human ears can detect.
Furthermore, electronic devices such as televisions and LED light bulbs flicker on and off rapidly. Since pets have a higher flicker threshold than humans, they may find them annoying.
The critical flicker fusion threshold, or the frequency at which flickers appear as a steady light, is 24 Hz, or 24 flickers per second, in humans. A dog’s flicker threshold is 80 Hz, so a 30-Hz internet or television broadcast that looks to humans like a continuous picture, appears to dogs as a series of slides shown in rapid succession.
Computers, smoke alarms and security systems also flicker and emit high-frequency sound. Research has demonstrated that high frequency sounds and flicker can disrupt normal physiology, induce seizures, and cause anxiety and fear in animals.
Give Quincy a break by turning off lights and unplugging electronics when they’re not in use. Make one room of your home a quiet room, free of electronics and LED bulbs. If you can, place home media components inside a closet or garage to muffle their high-frequency electronic noise.
Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.