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How to Tell if a Dog is Deaf

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Dog is Deaf

To tell if a dog is deaf, you will first need to need to understand how dogs behave when they suffer from hearing loss and then determine whether your dog is showing similar signs. Not always this is an easy task, and this is why it is important to inform the vet should your dog show any possible signs of hearing loss. Your vet is equipped with the proper equipment to make an accurate diagnosis. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana shares important information about hearing loss in dogs and how to tell if a dog is deaf.

Ear Drops Causing Deafness in Dogs

Deafness in Dogs 

Once upon a time, dog’s ears came in only one size and shape – they had a highly-mobile and erect flap that was smooth on the inside and well-insulated with hair on the outside. When we began to breed dogs to suit both our practical purposes and aesthetic preferences, we created the amazing variety of ear shapes and sizes that dogs have today.

By changing the dog’s ear design, we have accidentally increased the risk of ear problems. Today, ear problems are one of the most common reasons why dog parents schedule vet visits. Dogs have remarkable hearings. Although some dogs have better-tuned ears than others, all dogs can detect and locate the source of the sound in six-hundredths of a second.

As a condition, deafness can be defined as either decreased or completely lost hearing ability. If it affects only one ear it is called unilateral, and if it affects both ears it is called bilateral.

Dogs can be born deaf or become deaf due to plethora of causes. Therefore, deafness can be categorized as either congenital or acquired.

Congenital Deafness

Congenital deafness occurs during the early fetal development when the sound receptor cells fail to properly form. Normally, pups are born deaf but they gain their hearing ability within two weeks. Recent studies suggest there is a link between the genes for coat color (white and merle) and congenital deafness. According to this theory, congenital deafness has breed predispositions. It is estimated that over 30 dog breeds have high risk of manifesting congenital deafness.

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Acquired Deafness 

With an appropriate education, most causes of deafness can be easily prevented. Many vets and internet sites warn about certain popular conditions among dogs, while neglecting to pay attention to the reasons that lead to deafness. Below are several causes of acquired deafness in dogs.

  • Ear infections – chronic infections of the middle and inner ear cause tissue damage and eventually lead to deafness. Learn how to properly take care of your dog’s ears and prevent such issues.
  • Drugs and toxins – deafness may be a consequence of a drug’s toxicity. Certain antibiotics (neomycin sulfate, gentamicin) are considered to be ototoxic to dogs– they cause irreversibly damage the hearing nerves. Other deafness-causing drugs include some antiseptics and chemotherapy drugs.
  • Diseases – the canine distemper virus damages the dog’s hearing ability.
  • Traumas – significant head injuries, puncture wounds and frequent exposure to loud noises damage the ear drum and lead to deafness.
  • Tumors – brain tumors and tumors in the inner ear may pressure and eventually irreversibly damage the auditory nerve thus causing deafness.
  • Wax build-up – accumulating too much wax in the ear reduces the ear canal’s diameter and blocks the sound movement to the eardrum. These changes eventually lead to impaired hearing.

How to Tell if a Dog is Deaf 

Most owners usually struggle to decide whether their new four-legged fur baby is deaf or simply cool enough to ignore them and their commands. Unfortunately there is no method for fully testing your puppy’s hearing abilities at home. However, certain tests and techniques can serve as rather helpful indicators.

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  1. Consider your puppy’s breed. As mentioned, some dog breeds are at high risk of being born deaf. Keep in mind, that if your puppy does not belong to group of predisposed breeds it does not mean it cannot suffer from congenital or acquired deafness.
  2. Pay attention to your puppy’s bite. Playing rough and biting harder than its littermates, is a good indicator your pup may be deaf. If it cannot hear its littermates’ squeals, it does not know it is being rough and simply refuses to back off.
  3. Feeding response. Deaf puppies are usually the last in the litter to feed. The simply cannot hear the feeding bowls or the rustle of the food bag.
  4. Check your dog’s ear movements. Try noticing whether your dog’s ear move when you call its name. Such movements include twitching the ears aside or pricking them up. Deaf dogs fail to move their ears.
  5. Pay attention to other signs. Other signs that may indicate hearing issues include – head shaking, pain when touching the ears, odorous discharge from the ears, excessive barking, decreased activity, nervousness and tendency to bite when approached from the back.
  6. Test your dog’s hearing. To test your dog’s hearing at home you do not need any sophisticated and complicated methods. Jiggling your keys, banging two pan lids together, blowing whistles or clapping your hands are all examples of hearing tests that can be easily performed. As a trigger you can also turn on the vacuum cleaner or open a jar of biscuits.
  7. The BAER test. Simple observation does not guarantee definitive diagnosis. The only way to definitively diagnose deafness is with the BAER (brain-stem auditory evoked response) test. The BAER test is designed to assess the hearing in both ears and it usually lasts for 10-15 minutes. It is painless and works by detecting various levels of hearing function. The test can be safely performed on all dogs and puppies older than 6 weeks. The interpretation of the results requires certain amount of experience and the testing itself is fairly expensive.

Treating Hear Loss in Dogs 

Dogs suffering from temporary hearing loss provoked by ear infections, tumors or build-up of wax, can be treated by medically or surgically removing the causative agent. Even in these cases, the treatment is not 100 percent successful and it depends on the severity of the already caused damage.

Sadly, more often than not, deafness is irreversible and permanent. Some highly specialized veterinary hospitals offer customized hearing aids for disabled dogs, but these are, not only extremely expensive, but inefficient for most causes of canine deafness too.

On the bright side, lacking any obvious physical defects, deaf dogs are pretty normal. However, they do have a justified excuse for disobeying their owners.

About the Author

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.

ivana crnec

She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.

Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.

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