Deaf Dog Awareness Week is the last full week of every September. Sadly, some deaf dogs can end up put down out of a lack of understanding or due to behavioral issues that can be symptomatic of deafness. Deaf dogs can lead healthy, productive lives and be great companions with the proper care and training. Learn more about how you can help by visiting www.DeafDogs.org
What Causes Deafness in Dogs?
What causes a dog to lose its hearing? A lot of the same things that cause hearing loss in humans. Genetic defects can cause a dog to be born deaf; this is known as congenital deafness. A dog can also lose its hearing due to an ear infection, injury to the ear, or may experience gradual (or sudden) hearing loss due to old age. Exposure to loud noise can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss, as can certain drugs.
The most common cause of congenital deafness is pigment related. (There is some talk about a recessive gene as well, but most researchers do not believe this is the case.) Some dogs have white coats, but still have pigmented skin (Samoyeds, West Highland Terriers, and White German Shepherds fall into this category). Although they have white fur, they have black noses and eye rims (their fur is actually not pure white, but a very light buff color). Other dogs normally have colored coats, and white trim (this includes Dalmatians; the white is actually not their real coat color, the "spots" are). The "trim" comes from areas of unpigmented (pink) skin, which produces white hair. If there is unpigmented skin in the inner ear, the nerve endings atrophy and die off in the first few weeks of the puppy's life, resulting in deafness. Please note that you cannot tell the color of hairs in the inner ear by looking at any visible part of the dog's ears (including the hair around the ear canal). Although many dogs with white hair on their ears will be deaf, many deaf dogs have colored ears as well.
Hearing loss affecting both ears is called Bilateral Deafness. A bilaterally deaf dog is completely (or mostly) deaf in both ears. Hearing loss occurring in, or affecting only one ear, is called Unilateral Deafness. A unilaterally deaf dog has hearing loss in only one ear and has full hearing in the other ear. Return to index
How Can You Determine If Your Dog is Deaf?
The only way to know for sure if your dog is deaf is with a BAER test (see below). If you are unable (or unwilling) to have this test done, it is usually possible to make an accurate determination by observing the dog or talking to your vet and other "dog professionals." Most of us never have any doubts.
Some of the early signs (while the pup is still in the litter) may include the deaf pup that plays more aggressively or bites too hard because it is not deterred by the other puppy's yelp of pain. Once weaned, a deaf puppy may not wake up at feeding times unless it feels vibrations, or is bumped by a littermate.
In the home, you may notice that it doesn't respond to being called (or other noises), when sleeping, too far away, or not looking at you. Sometimes it bites too hard when playing with the family. (Yes, it is possible to teach a deaf dog to have a soft mouth.) Just as in the litter, if you own another dog, it can be difficult to immediately determine if the pup is deaf as it will notice what the other dog does and tag along. The following are some simple tests you can try at home if you suspect that your dog is deaf. Remember that it is almost impossible to test a unilaterally deaf (deaf in one ear) dog at home with any certainty.
Keep in mind that when doing these tests, the louder the sound, the stronger the vibration. (Remember how a stereo can rattle the house?) Any vibration or air current that the dog detects can, and probably will, get a response that makes you think that the dog can hear. A unilaterally deaf dog should hear the sounds, but not be able to tell where they originated. It may look around (even looking away from the source) to see where the sound came from. While trying these tests, be sure your dog is not looking in your direction, or in the direction of the distraction. You can also try a test when your dog is asleep. If necessary, have someone hold the dog facing away from you.
Tests You Can Do At Home
- Jangle keys, a rattle, or a can of coins
- Squeak a toy (be sure that air from the toy doesn't hit the dog - try it behind your back)
- Call your dog in a normal voice - try yelling
- Clap your hands (you should be far enough away so that he doesn't feel air movement)
- Whistle or (if you're musically challenged) blow a whistle
- Turn on a vacuum cleaner (be sure it's far enough away from the dog so that the vibrations or airflow don't reach him)
- Bang two pots together (be careful of air vibrations reaching your dog)
- Ring a bell or have someone ring your telephone or doorbell
Remember that if the dog is unilaterally deaf, you will get a different response depending on which side it is sleeping on or from what angle the sound has been directed. Some deaf dogs may hear very low or very high-pitched sounds. They may perk up, look around and have an expression on their face that asks, "What was that?" This could be an advantage if it's true for your dog - try using a dog whistle and see if you get a response to it.
If your dog doesn't hear normal sounds at normal volumes, chances are that it is deaf. Ask your vet or trainer if you feel the need for a second opinion. Like we said before, the only way to know for certain is to have the dog
Learn more at www.DeafDogs.org
Concerned that your Dog or Cat might have hearing issues? Contact Capeside Animal Hospital to make an appointment or get answers to your questions.