Dogs are known for their keen awareness of sound. A dog with healthy hearing can not only detect faint or distant sounds, but can identify specific sounds, like the opening of a food can or the sound of the family car pulling into the driveway. Many dogs, however, suffer from some sort of hearing loss, either partial or total, in one ear or in both.
Here we’ll look at the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of deafness in dogs, and we’ll share some tips on training and living with a hearing-impaired dog.
Causes of Deafness in Dogs
Hearing impairment in dogs can result from several factors. The term congenital deafness refers to hearing loss that is present from birth and not attributable to other causes. Often congenital deafness is linked to a dog’s breed and genetics. Dalmatians, Boston terriers, German shepherds, Australian shepherds, cocker spaniels, and about two-dozen other breeds have shown a genetic predisposition to deafness. Unfortunately, congenital deafness in dogs is not treatable.
Other potential causes of hearing loss include ear infections, tumors, blockages, toxic chemical exposures, and degenerative nerve changes associated with aging. Some of these factors result in only partial loss of hearing that may affect one or both ears, and may be treatable by your veterinarian.
Canine Deafness Detection & Diagnosis
How do you know if your dog has a hearing disorder? Your first clues will likely come from your pet’s behavior. Here are a few things to consider:
- Does she fail to respond to verbal commands?
- Does she fail to respond to her name?
- Does she fail to startle at loud noises?
If the answer is yes to any or all of these questions, the cause may be hearing loss. If you notice these deficits in a young puppy, the chances are greater that the hearing loss is congenital. If an older dog experiences a sudden loss in hearing, the cause may be related to aging or to a disease process. In either case, your vet is your best resource in assessing the cause, severity, and treatment options for your pet’s hearing loss.
Caring for your Deaf Dog
It’s important to note that deaf dogs can and do live happy fulfilling lives and that many adapt well to their conditions; however, living with a deaf dog does pose some challenges. For example, a deaf dog won’t be able to hear a car horn or other warning sound, so you may find it necessary to restrict off-leash time outdoors. A deaf pet also can’t hear you calling its name, so a vibrating collar (not a shock collar) can also help you call your pet when they’re out of arm’s reach. Also, since a deaf dog can’t always sense people approaching, it may be more apt to startle. One way to avoid frightening your animal is to greet it consistently with a gentle touch on the head or back. Your pet will learn quickly to discern the touch of family members and will be less apt to startle.
Tips for Training A Deaf Dog
Dogs often respond better to visual cues than to voice commands, even if they don’t have any hearing impairment, so training a deaf dog can be less challenging than you might think. By combining the hand signals used in dog obedience training with some basic American Sign Language, you can teach your dog to use a visual vocabulary. Some basic hand signs for dog training can be found at Deaf Dogs Rock. Here’s a great video showing a 16-week-old pit puppy learning sign language. Remember that dogs are quick learners and eager to please—so some patience and some treats can yield big rewards in sign training.
Editor’s Note: Deaf dogs present a unique training challenge. To overcome this, veterinarian Dr. Lee Pickett discusses alternative ways to train deaf dogs with prospective pet parents.
We hope these tips will help you and your hearing-impaired pet have a safe, loving, and fulfilling relationship.
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.
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