Can Dogs Sense Earthquakes?

Many pet parents understand noise phobias in dogs in an all-too-familiar way. From thunderstorms to fireworks, loud noises can trigger fear and anxiety in sensitive pups. Depending on where you live, ground-shaking earthquakes may be on your dog’s list of least-favorite sounds, too. 

According to a recent U.S. Geological Survey study, nearly 75 percent of the U.S. could experience potentially damaging earthquakes over the next 100 years (1). The researchers also noted the possibility of more damaging earthquakes along the central and northeastern Atlantic Coastal corridor, and a chance for greater shaking in California, Alaska, and Hawaii.

But can dogs sense earthquakes before humans can feel them? Let’s take a closer look.

Reports of animal behavior before earthquakes

Stories have been passed down from generation to generation of animals behaving strangely before an earthquake. In fact, per the U.S. Geological Survey, the earliest reference to animals acting strange moments before an earthquake is from Greece in 373 BC (2). In this instance, rats, weasels, snakes, and even centipedes reportedly fled their homes days before a destructive earthquake. 

In a 2018 study, researchers reviewed 729 reports of abnormal animal behavior before earthquakes (3). The reports included more than 130 different animal species — everything from fish to sheep and goats — across 160 earthquakes. After analyzing the reports, the researchers could not find strong evidence behind the claims that animals can predict earthquakes. 

In recent years, viral videos of dogs suddenly reacting to earthquakes have circulated. In April 2024, when a small earthquake hit New Jersey, a home surveillance camera caught a surprised Pitbull spinning around in a circle and jumping off the back of the couch. But a sudden reaction to an earthquake does not equate to a prediction.

“There are many reports of dogs and other animals having anxious behaviors prior to an earthquake, but a lot of reviews regarding this question are based on past reports and anecdotes rather than controlled scientific studies,” says Dr. Rhiannon Koehler, DVM, MPH. She notes that to date, there isn’t conclusive evidence that dogs can determine if an earthquake is going to strike.

Why might dogs be able to sense earthquakes?

Dogs are smart and often touted as being able to pick up on situations that are out of the ordinary, whether that’s a pet parent having a seizure or finding a person who is lost in the snow. “When something is abnormal, they’re often quite good at alerting their pet parents,” Dr. Koehler says. 

In the event of an earthquake, Dr. Koehler says she wouldn’t be surprised if a dog would run to their pet parent’s side.

“If dogs can sense earthquakes prior to the actual tremors, it’s possible that they can hear the sounds of the earth shifting or moving before humans feel or hear it,” Dr. Koehler says. Even if they can hear the sounds, however, she notes that it’s unlikely that they understand what is causing the noise. “If they sensed something abnormal, a dog might sit up from rest, perk their ears, whine, bark, or become restless,” she explains. 

Earthquakes can be anxiety-inducing for pets

Some pet parents have reported anxious behavior in dogs in the minutes to hours before an earthquake, as well as during the earthquake. “Commonly, this involves barking, whining, restlessness, pacing, or attempting to hide,” Dr. Koehler says. “Pets might run to their pet parents or avoid rattling objects during a quake.”

If you’ve experienced an earthquake in your area and your dog seems upset, you can help to calm them by remaining by their side and distracting them with treats or favorite toys, Dr. Koehler says. Once it is safe to do so, you can take your dog on a quick walk. “There are also anti-anxiety medications which you could discuss with your veterinarian if you have a pet with anxiety or who has responded to earthquakes with anxiety,” Dr. Koehler adds. 

It’s also important to consider your pets when establishing a disaster preparedness plan for your household. For instance, make sure you have a pet emergency kit that includes pet food and water and basic pet first aid supplies.

References:

  1. “New USGS Map Shows Where Damaging Earthquakes Are Most Likely to Occur in US.” USGS. Jan. 2024. Retrieved from https://www.usgs.gov/news/national-news-release/new-usgs-map-shows-where-damaging-earthquakes-are-most-likely-occur-us 
  2. “Animals and Earthquake Prediction.” USGS. Retrieved from https://www.usgs.gov/programs/earthquake-hazards/animals-earthquake-prediction
  3. Woith, Heiko & Petersen, Gesa & Hainzl, Sebastian & Dahm, Torsten. (2018). Review: Can Animals Predict Earthquakes?. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America. 108. 10.1785/0120170313. 

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