How to tell if your dog is going deaf

If you ever wondered if your dog is going deaf or just ignoring you, believe me, you’re not alone, there are many dog owners wondering the same thing ☺️ And while it’s possible that your pooch just isn’t in the mood to listen, sometimes the cause is more serious. So how can you tell if a dog is going deaf? 

Here are the answers to the most common questions about hearing loss in dogs and how to know if a dog is deaf. 

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While I am a veterinarian, this article is not intended to replace professional veterinary advice. If you have any medical concerns about your pet, consult your vet immediately. Always seek professional assistance if you are unsure of your pet’s health.

dalmatian dog in a lake drinking water

Hearing as an important sensory input

Dogs possess an intricate auditory system that allows them to perceive and interpret a wide range of sounds, making hearing a vital sense for them. 

Unlike humans, who can typically hear sounds up to 20,000 Hz, dogs have a remarkable ability to detect even higher-pitched frequencies, ranging from 47,000 to 65,000 Hz. 

Their sensitive ears not only enable them to hear these high sounds but also allow them to hear sounds four times further away than we can.

In addition to their impressive hearing range, dogs have the unique ability to rotate their ears independently, providing them with exceptional precision in pinpointing the source of sounds. 

This acute hearing capacity serves multiple purposes in their lives, including effective communication, social interactions, situational awareness, and the detection of potential dangers. 

Dogs heavily rely on their hearing to understand human commands, respond to their owner’s voice, and remain vigilant by alerting them to approaching visitors or potential threats. 

Overall, their remarkable ability to perceive and interpret auditory cues is an integral part of their sensory experience and plays a crucial role in their daily lives.

So it is safe to say that dogs have exceptional hearing. And because I’m well aware of how sensitive their hearing is, I always freak out when I see someone bringing their dog to a music festival. If the music is too loud for me, how must the poor pooch feel? 😩

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Most common causes of deafness in dogs

Deafness can be caused by many factors, including old age and genetics. 

Hearing loss is a common occurrence in older dogs, and it can significantly impact their quality of life.

As dogs age, the delicate structures within their ears may deteriorate, leading to a gradual decline in their hearing abilities.

Genetics plays a significant role in canine deafness, with certain dog breeds being more prone to hereditary deafness. 

Some breeds, such as Dalmatians, English Setters, English Cocker Spaniels, Australian Shepherds, and Bull Terriers, have a higher likelihood of inheriting congenital deafness. Here is a comprehensive list of breeds with a significant risk of canine deafness.

In these cases, deafness is typically present from birth and can be attributed to specific genetic mutations. 

Congenital deafness has been reported for approximately 80 breeds. The disorder is usually associated with white pigmentation and merle and piebald coat patterns. 

This only shows the need for responsible dog breeding and health screenings to minimize the risk of hereditary deafness.

Canine deafness caused by ear infections:

Ear infections, especially chronic ear infections, can also contribute to hearing loss in dogs. The canine inner ear is a complex structure, and infections can occur due to various factors, such as bacteria, yeast, or parasites. 

Chronic or untreated ear infections can lead to inflammation, damage to the ear canal, and ultimately, hearing impairment. 

It’s crucial to monitor your dog’s ears for signs of infection, including redness, swelling, discharge, or a foul odor.

If you see any signs of infection, or if you have the feeling that your dog might have an ear problem, please talk to your vet. 

Canine deafness caused by injuries and toxicities:

In addition to the above-mentioned causes, other factors such as exposure to loud noises, trauma to the ear, or certain medications can also contribute to hearing loss in dogs. 

Loud noises, such as fireworks, or gunshots, can damage the delicate structures within the ear, leading to permanent hearing impairment. 

Trauma to the head or ear can cause physical damage to the auditory system, affecting a dog’s ability to hear. 

Furthermore, certain medications, such as certain antibiotics or chemotherapy drugs, may have ototoxic effects, potentially leading to temporary or permanent hearing loss.

most common causes of canine deafness

What are the signs of deafness in dogs?

First of all, we need to rule out any physical obstructions or underlying medical conditions that may contribute to the problem. 

Excessive head shaking, ear discharge, or a foul odor emanating from the ears can indicate the presence of an infection or other issues that may affect the dog’s ability to hear. 

Now, there are several signs that might indicate that your pup is experiencing hearing loss. 

A deaf dog may be: 

  • Suddenly disobedient and ignore your verbal commands
  • Suddenly unresponsive to everyday sounds (if your dog is suddenly ignoring the doorbell or vacuum cleaner, he might have a hearing problem)
  • Suddenly unresponsive to his name (maybe he’s really not ignoring you)
  • Easily startled
  • Difficult to rouse from a deep sleep
  • Less active or appear more cautious
  • Barking excessively

If your dog starts to ignore your commands, he really might be going deaf. Especially if you have a senior dog ☺️

How to tell if a puppy is deaf

Determining if a puppy is deaf can be a bit more challenging. Puppies are naturally energetic, easily distracted, and often full of playful exuberance. Their curious nature and tendency to explore their surroundings can make it difficult to observe their responses to sounds. 

They are also still in the process of learning and adapting to their environment, which means they may not display typical responses to sounds even if their hearing is intact. However, there are certain tests and observations you can perform to assess a puppy’s hearing capabilities.

Puppies turn their head toward sounds. Playing with a squicky toy and observing the reaction might help you determine if your puppy has a hearing problem. 

Healthy puppies react to sounds by turning their head, or their whole body (sometimes too excitingly 🥰 ). They also react to common sounds like doorbells or vacuum cleaners. 

So if your puppy doesn’t react to sudden noises or squicky toys, I would consider it to be a sign of hearing loss. 

If you think that your puppy might be deaf, or you just get the feeling that something is not right, talk to your vet! 

most common signs of canine deafness

How do you test a dog’s hearing?

Now, there are ways how to test your dog’s hearing at home. However, if you have concerns that your dog has a hearing problem, please contact your veterinarian. 

How to test dog hearing at home

The basics are simple – you want to see if your dog reacts to sounds, and you want to check if he reacts the same way when the sounds are coming from different directions.

Here’s what you can try at home:

  • Observe your pup’s response to sounds: Clap your hands, whistle, or make other sharp sounds to see if your dog reacts by turning his head or showing signs of attentiveness. A lack of response will indicate that something is not right. 
  • Startle Response: Stand behind your dog and make a sudden noise, such as clapping your hands or shaking a can with coins. Observe the dog’s reaction. If the dog doesn’t respond to the noise by turning its head or showing signs of being startled, it might indicate that he has a hearing problem.
  • Sound Localization: Make a noise on one side of the dog while it is facing away from you. Observe if the dog reacts and turns its head towards the sound. Repeat the test on the other side. If the dog consistently responds to sounds on one side but not the other, it suggests hearing loss in the ear that is not responding.
  • Use a noisemaker: Shake a set of keys or a squeaky toy near the dog to see if he reacts to the sound. A normal-hearing dog will typically show interest and excitement.
  • Test from different angles: Stand behind your dog and make a sound to see if he can locate the source of the noise. Dogs with normal hearing will typically turn their head in the direction of the sound.
  • Call your dog’s name: Speak his name in a normal tone of voice from a reasonable distance. A dog with normal hearing will usually respond by looking at you or showing some recognition. And if he doesn’t react when you call his name, try to make the sound he’s associating with treats and food 😉

If you still have doubts, take your pup to a vet. 

Dog hearing test

A veterinarian will perform a thorough evaluation to rule out any underlying health condition. 

He may also suggest a Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER) test to accurately assess the dog’s hearing capabilities.

BAER is a non-invasive and objective test that can accurately determine the degree and type of hearing impairment in dogs. 

dalmatian puppy sleeping

How to care for a deaf dog – tips and advice

A hearing-impaired dog can function normally and have a healthy life, but it takes compassion and dedication on the owner’s part. The most important thing is to keep your pup safe and avoid startling him.

Here are a few tips when caring for a deaf dog:

Hand signals and visual communication: 

Since verbal commands won’t be effective, it’s important to establish visual cues for communication. Teach your dog basic hand signals for commands like sit, stay, and come.

Use consistent and clear gestures that your dog can easily understand. In time, you will learn each other’s body language and facial expressions and non-verbal communication will become easier. 

Vibrations and touch: 

Incorporate tactile cues into your communication. Dogs are sensitive to vibrations, so you can tap the ground to get their attention. Additionally, gentle touches or hand gestures can be used to guide and direct them.

A vibrating collar can be a useful tool to get your deaf dog’s attention. These collars can be programmed to vibrate, alerting your dog to look for visual cues or signaling them to come to you.

Safety precautions: 

Deaf dogs may be more vulnerable to accidents, so it’s crucial to ensure their safety. Keep them on a leash when outside or in unfamiliar environments.

Secure your home and yard to prevent them from wandering off or encountering potential hazards. Consider using a fence or a visual barrier to create boundaries.

Training and socialization: 

Enroll your deaf dog in positive reinforcement training classes. These classes can help them learn new behaviors and enhance their obedience skills.

Socialization is also important, so expose your dog to different environments, people, and other animals in a controlled and positive manner.

Avoid startling your dog: 

Deaf dogs may startle easily due to their inability to hear approaching people or noises. Approach them from their line of sight to avoid startling them. Introduce new people and animals gradually, allowing them time to adjust and become comfortable.

Maintain routine and consistency:

Deaf dogs thrive on routine and consistency. Establish a predictable daily routine for feeding, exercise, and training.

Consistency in your communication, commands, and interactions will help your dog feel secure and understand expectations.

Patience and positive reinforcement: 

Be patient and understanding with your deaf dog. Use positive reinforcement techniques such as treats, praise, and rewards to motivate and reinforce desired behaviors.

Avoid punishment-based training methods, as they can lead to confusion and anxiety.

Regular veterinary check-ups: 

Regular veterinary check-ups are essential for monitoring your deaf dog’s overall health and addressing any specific concerns related to their hearing or other issues. Your vet can provide guidance on managing their unique needs and suggest any additional care requirements.

Caring for a deaf dog requires compassion, an adaptive approach, and lots of love. With patience, understanding, and consistent communication, you can provide a loving and supportive environment for your deaf pup, allowing him to live a happy life.

Happy pet parenting! 🥰

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