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Deafness in Dogs

Deafness in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Deafness in dogs is the inability to hear. Loss of hearing is not life-threatening, but deaf dogs require modified interaction and training to compensate for hearing deficits. 

Deafness in dogs is either congenital or acquired. Dogs with congenital deafness adapt more quickly than dogs with acquired hearing loss. 

Common causes of deafness in dogs are genetics, congenital factors, presbycusis, infections, trauma, loud noises, ruptured eardrum, toxic drugs, anesthesia, myelin problems, and tumors. 

Deafness is characterized by a lack of sound response, unusual behavior, difficulty walking, alert failure, lack of ear movement, vocal command confusion, increased startle response, isolation or withdrawal, environmental sound unresponsiveness, and a gradual decrease in responsiveness.   

Visit the veterinarian immediately is suspecting a dog going deaf. Veterinarians use an otoscope to examine the ears and perform a BAER (brainstem auditory evoked response) test to confirm the hearing loss. 

Treatment for deaf dogs depends on the underlying cause. Infections are treatable and restore hearing, while neuron damage is untreatable and results in permanent deafness. 

What is Deafness in Dogs?

Deafness in dogs is a loss of hearing. Deafness is typical for older dogs but occurs in dogs of all ages. 

The hearing loss condition is classified based on criteria such as severity (partial or complete), distribution (uni or bilateral), cause (congenital or acquired), and type (conductive or sensorineural).

Conductive deafness is triggered by problems in the outer or middle ear, typically blockage, while sensorineural hearing loss arises from inner ear damage.  

Conductive deafness, caused by outer or middle ear obstruction, may be corrected, whereas sensorineural deafness cannot,” reports a study, “Canine Deafness,” published in VCNA Small Animal Practice in 2012. 

Deafness is not life-threatening, but some causes of dog hearing loss are painful and affect the dog’s quality of life. 

Dogs going deaf is a serious situation that requires prompt veterinary attention. Most deaf dogs learn to rely on their other senses after diagnosis and treatment. 

Can Acquired Deafness in Dogs be Treated?

Yes, acquired deafness in dogs can be treated. The primary factor determining the prognosis of a successful deafness treatment is the underlying cause. 

For example, deafness due to external ear canal blockage is surgically treatable, and antibiotics treat deafness caused by inner or middle ear bacterial infections. 

Intense noise, ototoxic drugs, and trauma-induced hearing loss are acquired types of deafness types that are untreatable. 

Consult the veterinarian immediately if suspecting hearing problems in a dog. A licensed veterinarian answers “How to tell if your dog is deaf” definitively based on a BAER test.  

What are the Causes of Deafness in Dogs?

The causes of deafness in dogs are listed below. 

  • Genetics: Dogs with merle and piebald coat patterns and blue eyes are likely deaf. Examples include Dalmatians, Collies, English Setters, Harlequin Great Danes, American Foxhounds, and Beagles. 
  • Congenital Factors: Loss of cochlear hair cells in the first three weeks of life causes congenital deafness. The auditory issue is known as neuroepithelial deafness, commonly reported in Border Collies and Rhodesian Ridgebacks. 
  • Age-Related Changes: Older dogs experience hearing decline due to nerve pathways and hair cell degeneration. The condition is called presbycusis and starts when dogs are between eight and ten years old. 
  • Infections: Infections of the middle (otitis media) and inner ear (otitis interna) damage the local components, causing hearing loss or complete deafness. 
  • Trauma: Deafness in some dogs is the result of severe traumatic injury of the ears or the head. 
  • Loud Noises: Long-term exposure to loud noises and acute exposure to high noise levels damage the eardrum or inner ear, causing temporary or permanent deafness. 
  • Ruptured Eardrum: A ruptured eardrum is associated with deafness and is caused by loud noises, trauma, infections, air pressure changes, ear growths, foreign objects, and toxins. 
  • Toxic Drugs: Deafness is caused by ototoxic medications such as aminoglycosides, chemotherapeutics, diuretics, and salicylates. Ototoxic refers to damage to the ear. 
  • General Anesthesia: Dogs undergoing general anesthesia become deaf in both ears in some instances. The exact mechanism for causing deafness is unknown. 
  • Myelin Loss or Destruction: The nerves carrying sound impulses are covered with a fatty tissue layer called myelin. Loss or destruction of the myelin affects hearing. 
  • Tumors: Tumors are a type of cancer in dogs that mechanically block the sound pathways or put pressure and damage the eardrum, manifesting in hearing deficits.  

What does a Perforated Eardrum in Dogs indicate?

A perforated eardrum in dogs indicates infections, toxin exposure, trauma, loud noises, foreign objects, large ear growths, and changes in atmospheric pressure. 

Dogs with perforated eardrums require quick treatment. Treatment includes medications or surgery depending on the underlying cause and the severity of the condition. 

The eardrum heals on its own after three to six weeks. Veterinary treatment is warranted to prevent permanent hearing loss and neurological complications. 

How can Owners Adjust Interactions and Training for Deaf Dogs?

Owners can adjust interactions and training for deaf dogs by building new communication techniques. Communication with deaf dogs is based on visual cues. 

“Dogs are able, willing, and actually very perceptive at reading human facial expressions and body language,” according to a study, “Canine Hearing Loss Management,” published in VCNA Small Animal Practice in 2012.  

Owners must use the dogs’ natural perceptiveness. Dogs rely on their sense of smell and quickly learn to compensate for hearing loss by reading visual cues and using their olfactory prowess. 

Deaf dogs must be kept on a leash outside and in secured, escape-proof yards to ensure their safety. Traffic and roaming are significant dangers for deaf dogs.  

Can Allergies Contribute to the Development of Deafness in Dogs?

Yes, allergies can contribute to the development of deafness in dogs. Environmental and food allergies in dogs cause recurrent chronic ear infections. 

Untreated ear infections spread from the outer to the middle and inner ear. Ear infections cause swelling and discharge production that blocks the ear canal, causing conductive hearing loss. The infected middle and inner ear structures trigger sensorineural deafness. 

Diagnosing and managing dog allergies reduces the risk of chronic or recurrent otitis, preventing deafness. 

What Type of Breed is More Prone to Deafness in Dogs?

Merle and piebald gene-carrying breeds are more prone to deafness in dogs. Deafness is associated with two pigmentation genes, merle and piebald. 

The merle gene is present in Collies, Dappled Dachshunds, Shetland Sheepdogs, Old English Sheepdogs, Harlequin Great Danes, American Foxhounds, and Norwegian Dunkerhounds. 

The piebald gene manifests in Dalmatians, Beagles, English Setters, Samoyeds, Greyhounds, Bull Terriers, Salyham Terriers, Bulldogs, English Cocker Spaniels and Great Pyreness. 

Dalmatians, English Cocker Spaniels, English Setters, and Bull Terriers with blue-colored eyes are “statistically more likely to be deaf,” explains Dr. George M. Strain in an article “Genetics of Deafness in Dogs” for the Louisiana State University. 

What are the Signs of Deafness in Dogs?

The signs of deafness in dogs are listed below. 

  • Lack of Response to Sound: The most apparent sign of deafness in dogs is the lack of usual response to sound stimuli. 
  • Unusual Behavior: Deaf dogs commonly exhibit unusual behaviors, such as loud or excessive barking, unprovoked irritation, and mood swings. 
  • Difficulty Walking: Deaf or sound-impaired dogs have trouble waking up because they do not hear the owner standing up or talking to them. 
  • Failure to Alert: Failure to alert is when otherwise vocal dogs stop announcing incoming people in advance. 
  • Lack of Ear Movement: Dogs move their ears to catch and analyze sounds better, and the lack of ear movement is a sign of hearing loss. 
  • Confusion with Vocal Commands: Dogs undergoing hearing changes or deafness are expected to suddenly lack obedience or be confused with vocal commands.  
  • Increased Startle Response: A pronounced startle reflex in dogs is among the telltale signs of hearing problems and requires veterinary attention. 
  • Isolation or Withdrawl: Isolation and withdrawal are signs of stress in dogs, triggered by the inability to rely on the hearing sense. 
  • Unresponsiveness to Environmental Sounds: A dog's lack of responsiveness to sounds from the environment is a sign of deadness and puts it at risk of injuries.  
  • Gradual Decrease in Responsiveness: Loss of responsiveness occurs gradually, making it difficult for dog owners to notice a difference.  

1. Lack of Response to Sound

Lack of response to sound is the absence of feedback to sound stimulation. Unresponsiveness to sound is the cornerstone of deafness manifestation in dogs and harms the dog’s communication and well-being. 

Take care of the dog’s ears and see the vet regularly to prevent deafening problems. The treatment for lack of sound response is non-specific and depends on the underlying cause. Schedule an immediate veterinary visit for dogs that do not respond to sounds.  

2. Unusual Behavior

Unusual behavior occurs when dogs act irregularly. An example is loud or excessive barking because the dog is unable to hear itself vocalizing. Other examples are irritability and mood swings, which stem from stress and harm the dog’s quality of life. 

Prevent unusual behaviors by training the dog to cope with the hearing loss. Treatable causes of deafness resolve the behavior permanently. Consult the vet if noticing unusual behavior in dogs. 

3. Difficulty Waking

Difficulty waking is when the dog does not hear the owner approaching or calling its name. The situation is distressing for the dog, and physical waking up induces an exaggerated startle response. 

Use a treat or light touch to wake the dog and prevent startling. Difficulty waking up is manageable if the underlying deafness is treated with medication or surgery. Visit the vet if the dog has difficulty waking. 

4. Failure to Alert

Failure to alert is the lack of vocalizing the presence of strangers. Dogs bark to alert the owner of incoming people in advance of visible sightings. Failure to detect outsiders is distressing to the dog and increases the startle response. 

Train the dog to rely on other environmental cues to prevent failure to alert. Failure to warn diminishes if the hearing is restored, but treatment is not guaranteed. Schedule a vet visit to determine why a dog suddenly fails to alert. 

5. Lack of Ear Movement

Lack of ear movement is keeping the ears in the same position regardless of the sounds in the environment. Dogs normally move their ears to locate sounds. 

Proper vet care prevents lack of ear movement and reduces the risk of hearing problems in dogs. Hearing loss causes, such as infections, are treatable and allow normal ear movement after treatment. Visit the vet immediately when the dog does not move their ears in response to sound. 

6. Confusion with Vocal Commands

Confusion with vocal commands manifests as disobedience. Disobedience is striking in otherwise well-trained dogs and affects the pet-owner bond. 

Teach the dog visual cues to prevent confusion with vocal commands. The confusion resolves if the hearing is restored. Consult the veterinarian if an obedient dog starts disobeying regular vocal commands. 

7. Increased Startle Response

Increased startle response is an intense reaction to being surprised. The startle reflex is instinctual in dogs but indicates problems when it becomes overly fierce. 

Prevent increased startle response in deaf dogs by allowing them to predict movements. The reflex returns to normal if the underlying cause of hearing loss is treated. Call the vet and schedule an appointment if the dog has increased startle response. 

8. Isolation or Withdrawal

Isolation or withdrawal is a preference for being alone. Dogs become withdrawn when confused by their loss of hearing, and being alone negatively affects their social and emotional wellness. 

Check and clean the dog’s ears to decrease the risk of deafness and prevent isolation or withdrawal. Isolating behavior diminishes if the dog’s hearing is restored with proper treatment. Schedule a veterinary visit for overly withdrawn dogs. 

9. Unresponsiveness to Environmental Sounds

Unresponsiveness to environmental sounds is a lack of response to surrounding noises, such as incoming cars or sirens. The dog is put at risk because it is unaware of the danger. 

Reduce the risk of deafness to prevent unresponsiveness to environmental sounds. Treating the cause of deafness solves the lack of responsiveness. See a vet immediately if a dog becomes unresponsive to environmental sounds. 

10. Gradual Decrease in Responsiveness

A gradual decrease in responsiveness is the loss of reaction toward sound cues that develops over time. The loss of responsiveness has a hazardous impact on the dog’s safety. 

Stay on top of the dog’s ear health and minimize deafness risk to prevent a gradual decrease in responsiveness. Treating the underlying cause of hearing loss eliminates the problem. See a vet urgently if the dog is less responsive than usual. 

What is the Most Effective Dog Hearing Treatment?

The most effective dog hearing treatment depends on the underlying cause. Certain causes of deafness in dogs are treatable. 

Ear canal obstruction, minor eardrum damage, and infections are corrected surgically or with medication. Commonly used medication includes antibiotics, non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroids, and anti-pain drugs. 

Dogs with partial deafness are candidates for hearing aids. Dog hearing aids amplify the sound and are derived from human hearing devices. 

Current hearing aids for dogs are complex and prohibitively expensive, but research is ongoing to make them easier to manufacture and more accessible. 

What can the Owner do to Reduce the Risk of Deafness in Dogs?

The owner can check the ears frequently, keep the ears clean, and practice regular vet visits to reduce the risk of deafness in dogs. 

The recommendation for dog owners is to check their dogs’ ears every one to two weeks.

Ear maintenance involves regular cleaning with commercially available ear cleansers or ear wipes. Using Q-tips to clean the ear is inadvisable because dogs have unique ear anatomy, and Q-tips cause eardrum injuries in some cases. 

Regular veterinary visits are critical for diagnosing and treating ear conditions before they become severe problems and cause hearing deficits or deafness. 

Is Deafness in Dogs Contagious to Other Pets or Humans?

No, deafness in dogs is not contagious to other pets or humans. Congenital or acquired loss of hearing is not transmissible to healthy dogs. Deafness is congenital or acquired in dogs. 

Congenital deafness develops in puppies due to faulty genes or if the mother is exposed to toxins or infectious agents during pregnancy. Acquired deafness occurs later in life and is possible in all dogs.  

What Happens if a Dog Hearing Loss is Left Untreated?

Permanent deafness happens if a dog's hearing loss is left untreated. Hearing loss caused by debris buildup in the ear canal is treatable. 

Infections of the middle and inner ear are treatable when discovered early. Prompt treatment helps restore hearing. 

Delayed treatment or late diagnosis causes permanent damage to the ear structures and deafness. 

Hearing problems in dogs are not fatal but require special care and attention. Dogs compensate for deafness using their other senses. 

Can CBD Oil Helps Dog Ear Problems?

Yes, CBD oil can help dogs with ear problems. CBD helps manage ear conditions that lead to deafness when used responsibly as a part of a multimodal treatment plan. CBD does not directly treat ear conditions and does not cure deafness. 

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a natural hemp extract with health-boosting properties. Ear problems in dogs benefit from cannabidiol’s ability to reduce inflammation, pain, and itchiness. 

Cannabidiol is safe to combine with mainstream ear treatments and is used in dogs of all ages. Consult the veterinarian about CBD oil vs. traditional medications for dogs to ensure safe and beneficial use. 

What is the Difference Between Acquired Deafness and Hereditary Deafness?

The difference between acquired and hereditary deafness is the presentation time and onset mechanism. 

Acquired deafness in dogs presents later in life. All hearing loss cases after birth are labeled as acquired regardless of the cause. 

Congenital deafness is present at birth or immediately after (before the ear canals open when the puppy is six to eight weeks old). 

Puppies are born deaf if they carry certain genes or have been exposed to toxins or infectious agents while still in the womb. 

Congenital hearing loss is asymptomatic, while specific signs accompany acquired deafness. 

For example, infection occurs if a dogs ear is red inside. Red ears are a hallmark sign of infection and result in hearing deficits or deafness if untreated.