Deafness in Dogs
English artist Francis Barraud’s portrait of his brother’s dog, Nipper, listening to the horn of an early phonograph
Dogs are considered superheroes for two outstanding abilities: their incredible sense of smell and their keen sense of hearing.
Just as dogs can smell 10,000 to 100,000 times better than us humans, they can also hear sounds at distances four times what we can hear. Their ears are able to pick up higher frequencies such as ultrasonic dog whistles that are way outside of our sound detection.
While some dogs are born deaf, most dogs will lose their hearing strength as they get older. But deafness doesn’t make your dog any less healthy or happy than a dog with all of his senses.
Learn all about canine deafness today.
Are Dogs Born Deaf?
While puppies are born deaf, they begin hearing when they’re close to 2–3 weeks old. You’ll start noticing puppies tilting and rotating their ears to precisely zero in on the sounds they’re sensing. Dogs have over 18 muscles in their ear, which makes our six ear muscles pale in comparison.
Dogs are considered deaf if they lose complete or partial hearing. They can be deaf in just one ear or both.
Dr. George M. Strain from Louisiana State University’s Comparative Biomedical Sciences School of Veterinary Medicine, has identified congenital deafness in over 80 breeds.
With almost 30% of puppies born deaf in one or both ears, Dalmatians are believed to be the breed with the highest incidence of deafness.
The dog breeds most susceptible to congenital deafness include:
- Boston and Jack Russell Terriers
- Australian and German Shepherds
- Toy and Miniature Poodles
It is thought that the “presence of white in the hair coat increases the likelihood of deafness,” due to a specific gene pigmentation that’s associated with hearing defects.
What Makes Dogs Lose Their Hearing?
If you notice that your usually responsive dog has started to become unresponsive to his name, squeaky toys, or loud noises, he may be losing his hearing.
“Anything that injures the ear canal, ruptures the eardrum or interferes with the tiny bones inside the ear can contribute to deafness, including infections, tumors, waxy build-up, repeated exposure to gunfire and nerve degeneration.” Antibiotics, medications, and heavy metals have also been linked to triggering deafness in dogs.
Older dogs can usually still hear high-pitched noises so a prognosis may be more advanced than anticipated. Your vet may run a few short, painless tests such as the auditory brainstem response (ABR) or auditory evoked response (BAER) test, which is sometimes referred to as the brainstem auditory evoked potential (BAEP) test. These measure responses from your dog’s brain to auditory stimuli. Keep in mind that these tests may be expensive and only offered at select practices.
Can Deafness be Reversed?
Congenital deafness can’t be reversed in dogs yet.
If your dog’s hearing loss stems from inflammation, your vet may suggest using surgery or medications to clear up the issue and restore hearing.
Companies manufacture hearing aids for dogs, but they only work to amplify sound. If your dog is deaf due to damaged nerve cells, amplifying the sound won’t help those nerves start working again.
Living with a Deaf Dog
A dog who cannot hear needs careful monitoring. He should always be on a leash as he will not be able to hear approaching sounds from other dogs, cars, or people. Keep your dog in a well-fenced area to avoid him escaping and not being able to hear your calls to come home.
Dick Russell has worked with more than 100 deaf dogs over his 20 years as a dog trainer. He tells PetMD, “It’s as easy to train a deaf dog as a hearing dog. The only difference is you use hand signals instead of verbal commands.”
Strong smelling treats, facial expressions, and toys with lights will get your dog’s attention during the day, while flashlights work great at night.
If your dog becomes anxious or startled because he did not hear you approach, he may bite out of self-defense. Try waking your dog with loud thumps near his bed, or by stomping your feet when you enter the room; the vibrations should nudge him to open his eyes and see you. Russell suggests waking your dog with a treat in hand so he associates the waking vibrations with something good.
Deaf dogs don’t know that they’re missing a sense — they’re able to lead normal, happy, productive lives without suffering. Your deaf dog may need a bit of special attention, but he’s just as capable of loving you and your family members as a dog with perfect hearing. In fact, a dog who cannot hear may become more affectionate and stay glued to your side for your protection and help.
Consider Adopting a Hearing Challenged Dog
Hundreds of deaf dogs are euthanized by breeders or shelters that can’t place them for adoption. Consider helping the Deaf Dog Education Action Fund, a not-for-profit organization founded to give deaf dogs a better life by educating the public about protecting and caring for them.