Do you know any deaf dogs? It’s not that common, but deafness in dogs does exist. Whether a dog is born with a congenital condition that causes deafness from birth, or is a result of illness or injury, they can lead happy – even joyful – lives, with a little help from us. But what do we need to do to ensure our deaf dogs can cope, be safe, and have fun?
Animal Kind Veterinary Hospital explores deafness in dogs and how we can help hearing impaired dogs live their best and safest lives.
Deafness in Dogs
Deafness can occur unilaterally (in one ear) or bilaterally (both ears are affected). The prevalence of deafness in dogs is not well studied, but there are thought to be several reasons for deafness.
Congenital – the most common form of deafness in dogs is linked to genes for white, piebald, or merle markings. In Dalmations, where the prevalence is highest, 8% of all dogs in the US are deaf in both ears, and 22% are born deaf in one ear. It used to be that dogs who were born deaf were euthanized, but this is no longer the case, thanks to people who have shown that deaf dogs can still make good family pets.
Illness or Injury – loud noises or other injury to the ear can cause deafness, as can some illnesses. Chronic, severe ear injections can also damage hearing.
Aging – in aging dogs, as in aging people, hearing loss is common. In many cases this hearing loss can go unnoticed until its severe. This is because our dogs are so attuned to us and can keep up with normal family life relatively easily without their hearing, by observing our body language and cues.
No matter what kind of hearing impairment your dog has, talk to us about treatment options. Many dogs can regain full function of their hearing with proper treatment. If you have a dalmation, spay/neuter is a must. And, if you do end up with a deaf puppy, and don’t feel up to the task of caring for her, search out rescue groups that specialize in deaf dogs. There are homes out there for dogs with this condition.
How to Help Deaf Dogs
If you find yourself with a dog that can’t hear well – for whatever reason – there are ways to help them lead a happy and safe life.
Don’t let a deaf dog roam – deaf dogs need a higher level of protection from us so that they don’t fall victim to the hazards of the outdoors that hearing dogs might more easily avoid. Off leash play is not recommended for these dogs, as they can’t hear your recall or the sound of an approaching car.
Collar, tags, and microchip – it’s imperative that deaf dogs wear identification at all times. It’s a great idea to have “I’m deaf” printed on their tag, in addition to your contact information. A microchip is also really important, so that if lost, your dog can be returned to you.
Training – training with hand signals is a great tool for deaf dogs. Always use a positive reward based training method. Some pet owners use a collar with a light vibration (not a shock collar) to train deaf dogs to look for hand signals. Here are some important signals to learn:
- Good dog (since they can’t hear, they need to know when they are doing something right!
- Watch me
- Basic obedience commands, such as come, stay, sit, and down (using American Sign Language)
Don’t startle – take care not to startle your deaf dog. Deaf dogs can become easily startled by things suddenly appearing or their bodies being touched since they cannot hear the approach. Start by desensitizing your dog to your touch by always touching them in the same place on their body, then immediately offering a food reward. Begin when your dog can see you, and gradually work up to touching them before they see you.
When waking your dog, let them smell your hand, then gently stroke until they are awake. Once your dog wakes, immediately give a reward. This teaches your dog that waking to a touch is a good experience.
Keep them lean – as with all dogs, it’s important to keep your deaf dog lean and fit. Because they shouldn’t run, swim, or hike off leash, this means planning walks or on-leash runs that can help keep their body moving. Proper nutrition is also a must. Lean dogs live healthier lives, so this is a no-brainer for everyone!
With a little help, deaf dogs can live long, happy, and joyful lives. If you have a deaf dog, call us and let us know about your experience! And if you have specific questions, make an appointment to talk about hearing loss or deafness in your dog.