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Low Batteries in Smoke Alarms Cause Distress for Pets

By Ann Wesley

When you get ready for vacation, you may shop for new clothes, stop the mail and paper, check and double check your tickets and if you have pets you are leaving at home, you make sure you have plenty of food and instructions for your pet sitter.

What are you forgetting, you wonder?

Have you checked the batteries in your smoke alarms?

A low battery can cause a smoke alarm or carbon monoxide detector to chirp and while it is annoying to humans, the noise can be downright terrifying to pets.

On more than one occasion I have entered a house and found a well-trained dog had soiled the floors in multiple places, scratched or chewed furniture and literally tried to dig its way out of the house. The cause was chirping alarms.

As many as 20 percent of dogs suffer from noise phobias so severe that their people seek professional help for them, according to veterinary behaviorist Bonnie Beaver in her book Canine Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians.

One friend experienced this situation last summer. She heard the chirping but hadn’t yet changed the batteries in her smoke alarm.  Suddenly her dog Ellie started trembling and drooling. She was ready to call the emergency vet before discovering the source of the problem. “Ellie lost it!” she explained. “She was shaking so hard that I thought she was having a seizure. I held her 10 minutes before she finally calmed down.”

The situation is worse for Mike Short’s dog. “Actually my neighbor's smoke alarm is the cause of my dog's distress. I have spoken with him several times to keep his batteries from running out, but invariably it keeps happening again and again and my dog suffers and has now stopped going out into our backyard.”

There are a lot of ways to treat noise phobia and desensitize dogs to noises. In this case, the best remedy is to avoid the noise by regularly changing the batteries in your alarms. The National Association of State Fire Marshals recommends changing smoke alarm batteries once a year. If you aren’t sure how much life your batteries have, changing them before vacation can save your pets a lot of stress and save some wear on your carpets.