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What You Need to Know about Deaf Dogs

Posted October 17, 2014 in Dog Diseases & Conditions A-Z

Deaf German Shepherd

As the Deaf Dog Education Act Fund says so well, “Outside of an obvious physical defect, deaf dogs are just your normal, everyday dogs. They do have a better excuse for not listening than most dogs…they share our lives, and are our companions and friends.”

Loss of hearing or deafness in dogs, much as in humans, can result in isolation and loneliness as well as problems with interactions. However, when you recognize, acknowledge and address hearing loss, it doesn’t have to get in the way. Furthermore, not all deafness is the same:

  • Deafness may be an inability to hear certain frequencies but still allow others to be heard.
  • Deafness may be somewhat resolvable and temporary if an underlying cause can be treated. (For instance, some hearing losses [conduction defects] are at least in part due to mechanical blockages of the ear canal by wax, hair, infection or damage to the ear drum.)
  • Deafness may be permanent damage to the inner and middle ear where the nerve impulses are. It can even be caused by extreme noise.  
  • Deafness may be a result of a congenital defect and, in this case, must be lived with. Nearly 90 dog breeds have been identified with congenital deafness. In most of these dogs the deafness is heredity and for nearly all it is associated with piebald or merle coat patterns1.  So almost any dog with white in its fur or any “blue” dog is at least more likely to be deaf2. Specific tests (BEAR) should be performed in potentially affected breeds to know for sure. Individual affected animals should not be bred.

The important thing is to recognize the condition and treat the treatable.

How to detect hearing loss in your dog  
Preliminary hearing evaluations need not be sophisticated or difficult. However, it is important to remember that many auditory cues may be accompanied by a visual stimulus so be sure the dog cannot see what you are doing. Ideally, your dog should be disinterested so the only stimulus is the sound you will create:

  • Jingle your keys in your pocket or rattle a can of coins.
  • When your dog is distracted call her name softly, but get progressively louder. Watch her eyes for a reaction. This can be done from another room while someone else watches her reactions.
  • Clap your hands or whistle from behind her,
Related symptoms: 

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Mike has more than 35 years of experience in companion animal veterinary practice and is a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2013.