Category: Dogs and sound

Does My Ultrasonic Humidifier Hurt My Dog’s Ears?

Does My Ultrasonic Humidifier Hurt My Dog’s Ears?

ultrasonic humidifier with a white base and a clear blue plastic top

No, Your Ultrasonic Humidifier Doesn’t Hurt Your Dog’s Ears

The mechanism in an ultrasonic humidifier has a frequency much too high for dogs to hear. Ultrasonic humidifiers use frequencies ranging from approximately 1,600,000 Hz to 3,000,000 Hz. Dogs can hear up to 45,000 Hz. The sound produced by this very high-frequency device is profoundly out of hearing range for both dogs and humans.

Although sounds outside our hearing range can in some cases damage humans’ ears and possibly dogs’, I’ve seen this documented only for extremely low-frequency sounds (Kugler et al., 2014), not high.

Humans tend to assign a glamour around the fact the dogs can hear in a higher frequency range than we can. Maybe it’s mysterious because we don’t know what’s going on up there? We feel like anything could be happening since we can’t hear it! Whatever the reason, there is a ton of misinformation online about dogs’ responses to high-frequency noises. I’m tackling this myth about ultrasonic humidifiers first.

This post includes a lot of discussion of sound frequency; if you need a review of the concept, check out my post that includes an explanation. Also, you will see me writing out the numerals for frequencies in this piece rather than using the common scientific shorthand. For instance, I will write 1,600,000 Hz instead of 1.6 MHz. I want the magnitude of the numbers to be clear to all readers.

What Is Ultrasound and Can Dogs Hear It?

Ultrasound is defined as sound higher than 20,000 Hz. That base frequency is the approximate upper limit of human hearing.

But the term “ultrasound” has two common usages, and this causes confusion.

One usage is to refer to frequencies in the range immediately above the limit of human hearing. Sometimes an upper limit of this “lower” ultrasound is given as 25,000 Hz or 40,000 Hz. Dogs can hear in this range. I’ve also seen “low-frequency ultrasound” defined as up to 100,000 Hz.

That’s the first usage, and you can see it’s a little fuzzy.

The other usage of “ultrasound” refers to very high-frequency sound in the millions of Herz. These are the frequencies of ultrasound often used in medicine and industry.

These two usages often result in people worrying that dogs can hear up in the millions of Herz range, but they can’t.

Dogs with normal hearing can definitely hear sounds above 20,000 Hz, as in the first usage. Their hearing range tops out at about 40,000–45,000 Hz (Heffner, 1983). They can’t even come close to hearing sound with frequencies of a million Herz.

For a complete comparison of dogs’ hearing with that of humans, check out my blog post on the topic.

What Frequencies Do Ultrasonic Humidifiers Use?

ultrasonic humidifier with a white base and a clear blue plastic top with mist coming out of it

Ultrasonic humidifiers have a vibrating plate that creates ultrasonic waves ranging from 1,600,000 to 3,000,000 Hz (Al-Jumaily & Meshkinzar, 2017; Yao et al., 2019; Yao, 2016).

The function of ultrasound in humidifiers is to atomize the water in the tank into tiny droplets, creating a mist.

In general, the higher the frequency of the ultrasonic vibration, the smaller the droplets produced.

To reiterate, the ultrasound frequencies used by humidifiers are far too high for dogs to hear. A humidifier using a 1,600,000 Hz mechanism is operating at a frequency 36 times the upper limit of dogs’ hearing.

We are not even talking about the same ballpark.

Can Ultrasound Cause Damage to Dogs’ Ears?

It could, in the lower range of ultrasound I’ve discussed. But such a sound would rarely be encountered, and it wouldn’t be coming from a humidifier.

The important factors in causing ear damage are the sound pressure level (SPL) experienced by the individual and the duration—not the frequency. So higher frequencies are not intrinsically worse for dogs’ ears. A noise in the ultrasound range would need to be very loud to cause damage, just as is the case in other ranges of the sound spectrum.

Ultrasound in the lower range can also be damaging if it is focused by a medical or industrial instrument. For example, ultrasound around 25,000 Hz is finely targeted to break up kidney stones in humans. This is a frequency dogs can hear, but what are the odds of a direct, focused exposure to a dog’s ear?

Neither of these cases apply to humidifiers because of the difference in frequency range, and would rarely be encountered by humans or dogs in day-to-day life.

I haven’t found any literature indicating that ultrasound in the millions of Herz would cause ear damage to dogs or humans. I’ll be looking further to make sure, but my guess is that it’s not something to worry about, for two reasons. First, it would be rare to encounter a loud sound source in that frequency range. That takes some extremely specialized equipment. Second, sound waves at ultra-high frequencies dissipate and attenuate (roughly, they scatter and get quieter) very fast as they travel through air.

In a future post, I will review possible sources of psychological irritation from ultrasound. There are indeed sounds in the lower ultrasound range that your dog might hear and find irritating or scary even though they don’t damage his ears. I’ll discuss ways to detect sounds in this range in your home. I’m not including these topics here because they don’t relate to the ultrasound frequencies humidifiers use.

tan dog wearing hearing protection: Mutt Muffs

Consumer Cautions about Ultrasonic Humidifiers

If you read up on the safety of ultrasonic humidifiers, you will find lots of cautions about the fact that they can aerosolize mold, bacteria, and even minerals in water (Environmental Protection Agency, 1991; Yao et al., 2019; Dietrich, Yao, & Gallagher, 2022). These cautions actually made me start cleaning out my humidifier more often and I plan to get distilled water to use instead of tap water.

In the safety instructions, you will not find any cautions about the ultrasounic waves.

Why Did I Even Write about This?

Search the title of this post in Google and you’ll see. There is so much misinformation online about dogs and high frequencies. This post is just a start. Next, I’ll be discussing the erroneous belief that somehow, all sounds with frequencies in the upper half of dogs’ hearing range are intrinsically annoying, painful, or harmful to them.

Copyright 2023 Eileen Anderson

Other Dogs and Sound Posts

Impulse Sounds and the Startle Reflex: Why Some Dogs Fear the Clicker Sound

• How to Soundproof a Dog Crate

• Review of Pawnix Sound Cancelling Headphones for Dogs: Unlikely to Work as Described

• My webinar on dogs and sound: Sound Decisions

• How to Tone Down That Plastic Collar Click (and Why)

• How I Taught My Dog to Love the Sound of Velcro

• Using Sound Masking to Protect Your Dog from Loud, Scary Sounds

• Are Dogs Ever Irritated by Sights, Sounds, or Smells?

• 6 Ways to Prepare Your Dog for Fireworks

References

Al-Jumaily, A. M., & Meshkinzar, A. (2017). On the development of focused ultrasound liquid atomizers. Advances in Acoustics and Vibration2017.

Dietrich, A. M., Yao, W., & Gallagher, D. L. (2022). Exposure at the indoor water–air interface: Fill water constituents and the consequent air emissions from ultrasonic humidifiers: A systematic review. Indoor air32(11), e13129.

Environmental Protection Agency. (1991). Indoor Air Facts No. 8: use and care of home humidifiers.

Heffner, H. E. (1983). Hearing in large and small dogs: Absolute thresholds and size of the tympanic membrane. Behavioral Neuroscience97(2), 310.

Kugler, K., Wiegrebe, L., Grothe, B., Kössl, M., Gürkov, R., Krause, E., & Drexl, M. (2014). Low-frequency sound affects active micromechanics in the human inner ear. Royal Society Open Science1(2), 140166.

Yao, Y. (2016). Research and applications of ultrasound in HVAC field: A review. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews58, 52-68.

Yao, W., Gallagher, D. L., Marr, L. C., & Dietrich, A. M. (2019). Emission of iron and aluminum oxide particles from ultrasonic humidifiers and potential for inhalation. Water research164, 114899.

Review of Pawnix Sound Cancelling Headphones for Dogs: Unlikely to Work as Described

Review of Pawnix Sound Cancelling Headphones for Dogs: Unlikely to Work as Described

A pink Pawnix headset for dogs and the box it came in

The claims made by the Pawnix company sound too good to be true. I believe that is the case. The company makes assertions about its sound-cancelling headset that are not possible with current consumer technology and for which they don’t provide evidence.

There are many products that market to the concerns we guardians have for dogs who are sensitive to thunder and fireworks. Like many of the others, Pawnix’ touted benefits are not well supported by evidence.

Continue reading “Review of Pawnix Sound Cancelling Headphones for Dogs: Unlikely to Work as Described”
If Your Dog Is Afraid of Fireworks, Contact Your Vet Now

If Your Dog Is Afraid of Fireworks, Contact Your Vet Now

“What are we here for this time?”

Every year I post an article that lists last-minute things you can do to help your dog who is afraid of fireworks. We are coming up on Independence Day and Canada Day, and that means bangs and booms. Over the years, I have tweaked my list. I’ll be updating and reposting it in a few days.

But here is an earlier reminder with the most important tip of all.

See your vet about medications (or speak to clinic staff by text or phone if that is an option).

There are new products on the market, as well as several options that have been around for years. Here is what Dr. Lynn Honeckman, veterinary behavior resident, says about the benefits of medications.

Now is the perfect time to add an anti-anxiety medication to your firework-preparation kit. The right medication will help your pet remain calm while not causing significant sedation. It is important to practice trials of medication before the actual holiday so the effect can be properly tested.

There are a variety of medications or combinations that your veterinarian might prescribe. Medications such as Sileo, clonidine, alprazolam, gabapentin, or trazodone are the best to try due to their quick onset of action (typically within an hour) and short duration of effect (4–6 hours).

Medications such as acepromazine should be avoided as they provide sedation without the anti-anxiety effect, and could potentially cause an increase in fear.

Pets who suffer severe fear may need a combination of medications to achieve the appropriate effect, and doses may need to be increased or decreased during the trial phase. Ultimately, there is no reason to allow a pet to suffer from noise phobia. Now is the perfect time to talk with your veterinarian.

Dr. Lynn Honeckman

Sound phobia is a serious medical condition that usually gets worse. Nothing else comes close to the efficacy of medications. The research on music, pressure garments, and supplements shows weak effects at best. The best way to help your dog get through the coming holidays in the U.S. and Canada is to contact your vet for help. Call now.

Copyright 2019 Eileen Anderson

Related Post

If Your Dog Is Afraid of Fireworks, Contact Your Vet Now

If Your Dog Is Afraid of Fireworks, Contact Your Vet Now

“What are we here for this time?”

Every year I post an article that lists last-minute things you can do to help your dog who is afraid of fireworks. We are coming up on New Year’s Day, and that means bangs and booms. Over the years, I have tweaked my list. I’ll be posting it tomorrow.

But here is an earlier reminder with the most important tip of all.

Continue reading “If Your Dog Is Afraid of Fireworks, Contact Your Vet Now”
How to Tone Down That Plastic Dog Collar Click (and Why)

How to Tone Down That Plastic Dog Collar Click (and Why)

bright colored fabric dog collar with plastic snap

Plastic collar clicks are loud! And we often snap them right next to our dogs’ ears. I realized I habitually dampen the sound with my hands; this practice undoubtedly came from my experiences with little Zani, who was clinically sound phobic. During bad periods, she would startle at any kind of sudden noise.

I imagine I’m by far not the only one who does this. But in case there are dog owners who haven’t worked this out, here’s a kind thing you can do for your dogs. If you use collars or harnesses with plastic snap buckles, you can use your hands to damp the sound of the click when you snap the collar closed.

I wanted to know just how loud the snap might be and how much quieter I could get it.

Continue reading “How to Tone Down That Plastic Dog Collar Click (and Why)”
Using Sound Apps for Desensitization & Counterconditioning for Dogs

Using Sound Apps for Desensitization & Counterconditioning for Dogs

“What’s that noise and where’s it coming from?” Dogs’ hearing abilities are different from ours—a fact that is frequently and strangely unconsidered in the development of many audio products for dogs.

Dog trainers often recommend smartphone apps and YouTube videos for desensitizing and counterconditioning dogs who are afraid of specific noises. There are many apps designed for this, and they typically have recordings of a variety of sounds. However, the physics of sound production and the limitations of consumer audio present large problems for such use, problems substantial enough to prevent the success of many (most?) conditioning attempts.

Continue reading “Using Sound Apps for Desensitization & Counterconditioning for Dogs”
Impulse Sounds and the Startle Response: Why Some Dogs Fear the Clicker Sound

Impulse Sounds and the Startle Response: Why Some Dogs Fear the Clicker Sound

In 2018, I wrote a post titled “My Dog Is Afraid of the Clicker. What Should I Do?” I told the sad story of how I scared a dog with the clicker, then scared her even more by following the standard advice to remedy the situation. In the post, I did something I rarely do, which was to give straight-up advice. I advised people whose dogs were afraid of the clicker to switch to a verbal marker if they really needed a marker, and to leave the click sounds alone for a bit while they determined the extent of the dog’s fears.

I stand by that advice. And now I am going to show you why switching to a quieter mechanical click is not enough of a change to remediate some dogs’ fear.

Continue reading “Impulse Sounds and the Startle Response: Why Some Dogs Fear the Clicker Sound”
If Your Dog Is Afraid of Fireworks, See Your Vet Now

If Your Dog Is Afraid of Fireworks, See Your Vet Now

What are we here for this time?

Every year I post an article about last-minute things you can do to help your dog who is afraid of fireworks. We are coming up on Canada Day and U.S. Independence Day, and that means bangs and booms. Over the years I have tweaked my list. I’ll be posting it in a few days.

But here is an early reminder with the most important tip of all.

  1. See your vet.

If you see your vet now to discuss prescription drug possibilities, you have time to make sure they work for your dog and your vet can adjust them if necessary. There are new products on the market, as well as several options that have been around for years.Here is what Dr. Lynn Honeckman, veterinary behavior resident, says about the benefits of medications.

Now is the perfect time to add an anti-anxiety medication to your firework-preparation kit. The right medication will help your pet remain calm while not causing significant sedation. It is important to practice trials of medication before the actual holiday so that the effect can be properly tested.

There are a variety of medications or combinations that your veterinarian might prescribe. Medications such as Sileo, clonidine, alprazolam, gabapentin, or trazodone are the best to try due to their quick onset of action (typically within an hour) and short duration of effect (4–6 hours).

Medications such as acepromazine should be avoided as they provide sedation without the anti-anxiety effect, and could potentially cause an increase in fear.

Pets who suffer severe fear may need a combination of medications to achieve the appropriate effect, and doses may need to be increased or decreased during the trial phase. Ultimately, there is no reason to allow a pet to suffer from noise phobia. Now is the perfect time to talk with your veterinarian.

Dr. Lynn Honeckman

Sound phobia is a serious condition. The best way to help your dog get through the coming holidays in the U.S. and Canada is to contact your vet for help. Call now.

Copyright 2019 Eileen Anderson

Related Post

Are Dogs Ever Irritated by Sights, Sounds, or Smells?

Are Dogs Ever Irritated by Sights, Sounds, or Smells?

That’s a serious question on my part, not clickbait. I don’t know the answer. And I’m not talking about fear; I’m talking about being bothered. I’m wondering about it because of a recent experience.

My little Zani is clinically sound phobic of high-frequency sounds such as beeps and whistles. Because of meds and careful application of desensitization and counterconditioning, her default response these days to hearing any sort of digital beep is a positive one. She turns to me or even runs to me to look for a treat. Take a look/listen.

Continue reading “Are Dogs Ever Irritated by Sights, Sounds, or Smells?”
6 Ways to Prepare for the Bangs and Booms Starting NOW

6 Ways to Prepare for the Bangs and Booms Starting NOW

Is your dog scared of fireworks? Don’t wait until the holiday hits. Even with just a couple days’ lead time, you can make a plan and take action now to help your dog be a bit less afraid of the unpredictable scary sounds of fireworks, firecrackers, whistles, and even guns.

Continue reading “6 Ways to Prepare for the Bangs and Booms Starting NOW”
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