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Pets Large & Small

Smoke Detectors

Dr. Kimberly Brokaw, DVM
Walkersville Vet Clinic

(2/2016) Every home should have at least one working smoke detector on each living level. The batteries are supposed to be changed twice per year, when we change our clocks, spring and fall. While ideally the batteries are changed on that routine schedule, lots of people, change them only when they hear the annoying low battery chirp of the smoke detector.

I'm not sure if it was by design or just luck that the low battery chirp made by smoke detectors drives the majority of dogs crazy. If I have a smoke detector that's battery has gone low while I'm at work, I know immediately upon getting home that it has been chirping. The dogs are waiting at the back door acting agitated and they follow me around acting extra clingy until I put fresh batteries in the smoke detector.

One of the times when I was at a veterinary conference, one of my smoke detectors had the low battery chirp start. My dad was staying at the house watching all the pets and he called as the dogs were following him around and driving him crazy. He had checked all the smoke detectors and still hadn't found the one with the low battery. I like to have a smoke detector in almost every room in the house. In fact some rooms get two smoke detectors as well as a carbon monoxide detector. So when the battery goes dead in one of the devices, it can take awhile to find which one is out, with the dogs following me from room to room while I try to find where the beep is coming from.

As I only change the batteries in the smoke detectors when I hear the beeping, I have come to recognize the agitated and anxious look on the dogs' faces when a battery is low. However, some of my clients are better at changing batteries, so may not realize just how irritating the low battery alert of the smoke detector can be to some dogs.

One of my clients brought in her dog for a sudden behavior change. Mocha is a 6 year old boxer cross. She'd lived with her owner since she was a puppy and her owner had never seen behavior such as this. She told me that it came on suddenly and now Mocha was acting insecure and following her all about the house and acting nervous. The behavior had been occurring for the last couple of days. Mocha was still eating and drinking normally, but was no longer able to be by herself. The owner said Mocha was even following her into the bathroom and trying to get in the shower with her.

After a normal physical exam, I continued asking the owner questions about whether there were any new people in the house or new pets or other things that could be making Mocha nervous. The owner couldn't think of anything that would be causing the behavior change. After further discussion, we decided to pull blood and submit it for analysis. Infection, thyroid disease, and other problems can initially present as behavioral problems. Mocha’s physical exam was normal, so I felt it was unlikely that she had a physical illness. As it was an evening appointment, the blood tests wouldn't get sent out until the next day, so it would be two days before I would have results. I instructed Mocha's owner to call me if Mocha started to act sick or show a worsening of signs.

Two days later, I called Mocha's owner to let her know that the blood tests were normal and I didn't see a reason for Mocha's behavior change. As I started discussing options for referral to either a behaviorist or a neurologist, Mocha's owner interrupted me to say the behavior had resolved. Apparently she had forgotten to change the battery in her smoke detector and while she didn't notice the beeping for a few days, it was driving Mocha crazy. After the owner changed the smoke detector battery, Mocha’s behavior returned to normal.

So be sure to change the batteries in your smoke detector. Alternatively, only buy smoke detectors with the built in 10-year long battery life. While the annoying little beep of a low battery may be a simple reminder for you, it can make your dog neurotic and get you an unnecessary vet bill.

Read other articles by Dr. Kim Brokaw