Deafness in dogs image. Woman and Dalmatian dog Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

Understanding Deafness in Dogs

Is your dog deaf or losing his or her hearing? Deafness in dogs is more common than you may suspect. Hearing is not one of the essential sensory preceptors for dogs. If your dog is deaf or hard of hearing, there are a few things you can do to make life a little easier for both of you.

You must remember that deafness in dogs is not a big deal, so don’t be sad or worry. As time goes on, you might even find yourself forgetting that your dog is deaf.

How does hearing work?

The sense of hearing is accomplished by auditory transduction. Electrical or nerve impulses are created from sound waves in the air by tiny hair cells within the organ of Corti. When the basilar membrane vibrates, tiny clusters of hairs bend against the tectorial membrane causing hair cells to be triggered to fire. When the organ of Corti is stimulated, it sends nerve impulses to the brain via the cochlear nerve. 

Indicators that your dog may be losing or has lost his hearing:

  • Stops reacting to the doorbell.
  • No longer comes to the door when you come home.
  • Doesn’t respond when you call his name.
  • Barking louder than he used to.
  • Startles easily if you come up behind him.
  • No longer barks at the vacuum cleaner, when he once did.
  • Not reacting to barking dogs when you walk past solid fences.

Hearing loss can be:

  • Unilateral or bilateral, meaning it can occur in one both ears.
  • Partial or total, depending on the extent of the loss.
  • Syndromic or non-syndromic, which means whether or not it accompanies a disease.
  • Peripheral, involving the outer ear, inner or central.
  • Inherited or acquired.
  • Congenital, late-onset or conductive.

Some dogs are more likely to experience deafness than others. Many Dalmatians, merle-colored Border Collies, and albino-colored dogs and cats are often born deaf. 

Rhodesian ridgebacks and Cavalier’s have both presented with a pattern of late-onset deafness.

Hearing loss or deafness can also result from trauma. Damage can result from excessive and repeated exposure to loud noise. Hunting dogs, exposed to the sound of gunshots, often have hearing damage. Continued exposure to loud sirens, or alarms or just like with humans, loud music can also result in hearing impairment.

At home hearing tests

  • Go to the room away from your dog, but where you are certain he could hear you. Call his name and see if there is a response.
  • With your dog in the same room, but not looking at you, clap your hands and varying degrees of intensity and see if you get a response.
  • Ring your doorbell when he’s not looking.

BAER hearing test

If you want to go beyond home testing, you can take your dog for a BAER hearing test. BAER is an acronym for brainstem auditory evoked response. It detects the electrical activity in the cochlea and auditory pathways in the brain.

The test is simple, and no sedation is required, but it does involve a few tiny needles (like those in acupuncture). You may have to travel to find a veterinarian or university that conducts the test. You can find a list of BAER hearing test sites on the Louisiana State University website.

FETCHLAB

FETCHLAB, the Facility for Education and Testing of Canine Hearing, offers an Animal Audiology certificate at the University of Northern Colorado, University of Cincinnati, and the University of Akron. They all have days where the public can schedule a visit. Testing is most commonly done with puppies or for breeders, but anyone is welcome to sign their dog up. 

What can you do if you have a deaf or hard of hearing dog?

  • Don’t panic.
  • Love your dog exactly as you always have.
  • Remember, your dog has already adapted to his loss of hearing. It’s not a priority sense for him like it is for humans. His sense of smell is far more critical.
  • Be aware that he needs you more than ever to keep an eye on him in dangerous situations. Remember, he may not hear a car approaching or backing out of a driveway.
  • Never allow your dog to be outside without a leash in an unfenced area.
  • Show your dog what you want him to know, instead of telling your dog. For example, show your dog his dinner, instead of saying, “it’s dinnertime.”
  • Be patient.
  • Use gestures to communicate. Even if your dog can hear just fine, it’s a good idea to start learning this mode of communication.
  • Approach your dog gently, as not to startle him.
  • Keep communicating.
  • Use mental pictures to send messages to your dog.
  • Let others who play a significant role in your dog’s life, know that your dog can’t hear. This would include your family, your dog’s vet, groomer, or dog walker. They must know your dog can’t hear so that they can make accommodations for your dog.
  • Stay engaged with your dog, and don’t give up on communicating.

There are so many ways to communicate other than using our voices. Let your love for your dog guide you into finding new levels of communication and understanding. A deaf dog can truly teach you how to hear with your heart.

Your relationship has an excellent chance of growing deeper than ever before. Remember, you are your dog’s guardian, and he looks to you for cues and leadership. Be confident and let your dog feel safe in your loving care.

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