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Dog Hearing Loss: Types, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Dog Hearing Loss: Types, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Dog hearing loss is deafness that is temporary, partial, or complete in one or both ears. Congenital diseases, infections, trauma, genetics, old age, foreign objects, or the degeneration of the ear anatomy in dogs cause dog hearing loss. Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Dapple Dachshunds have a genetic predisposition to deafness through a gene that results in white pigmentation patterns and deafness.  

The types of dog hearing loss include congenital deafness, acquired deafness, conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. Symptoms of dog hearing loss are behavioral changes such as startling easily, frequent barking, and not responding to sounds. Sudden deafness in dogs is a medical emergency that requires veterinary care immediately. 

Early detection of deafness in dogs is the best way to prevent further damage and secondary injuries. The treatment for hearing loss in dogs depends on the underlying cause. Congenital deafness is managed with proper planning, while acquired deafness is curable with prompt identification of cause and treatment.  

What is Dog Hearing Loss?

Dog hearing loss is the complete or partial loss of the sense of hearing due to congenital or acquired causes. Congenital deafness occurs when a dog is born without hearing, while acquired deafness occurs when a dog loses hearing because of disease. A dog losing hearing indicates underlying issues requiring immediate diagnosis and treatment. 

What are the Types of Dog Hearing Loss?

The types of dog hearing loss are listed below.

  • Congenital deafness: Congenital deafness is the type of deafness that occurs when a dog is born without a sense of hearing. Intrauterine infections, exposure to toxins, liver failure, and ototoxic drugs while the dam is pregnant are causes of congenital deafness. Fetal development of the ears is affected, leading to deaf offspring. 
  • Acquired deafness: Acquired deafness is caused by external factors, such as long-term otitis interna, eardrum rupture, inflammation, presbycusis, tumors, trauma, and exposure to toxins and ototoxic chemicals. The dog is born with hearing, but external factors and diseases damage the internal structures of the ear, causing deafness. 
  • Conductive hearing loss: Conductive hearing loss is a type of deafness that occurs when sounds are unable to pass through the outer and middle ear. It is caused by a blockage that causes sounds to become softer and muffled. Otitis-related exudation, stenosis of the ear canals, and glandular hyperplasia are causes of conductive hearing loss. 
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: Sensorineural hearing loss is a type of deafness caused by damage to the neurological pathways of hearing or cochlear nerve. The cochlear nerve is essential in transmitting sounds to the brain. Ototoxic medications, loud noises, trauma, genetics, and infection cause hearing loss

What are the Causes of Dog Hearing Loss?

The causes of dog hearing loss are listed below.

  • Age: Age-related deafness, or presbycusis, is the gradual hearing deterioration with age. Deteriorating changes in the inner ear and auditory nerve that relay signals from the ear to the brain lead to a significant loss in the quality of sound transmission. 
  • Genetics: Dogs with piebald or merle genes are genetically predisposed to deafness. Deafness occurs in offspring when both parents have the merle gene. A single merle gene produces the dapple pigmentation pattern alone, but a puppy with two merle gene copies has a solid white coat and blue irises. Dalmatians are commonly affected with genetic deafness, which is caused by loss of blood supply to the cochlea and degeneration of the hair cells of the organ of Corti. 
  • Ear Infections: Chronic otitis interna that affects the internal ear are able to lead to permanent deafness. Otitis causes an increase in cerumen and debris that causes conductive hearing loss. The inflammation makes the ears a perfect environment to host pathogenic bacteria and fungi, leading to ear anatomical damage.
  • Trauma: Deafness occurs when there is trauma to a portion of the temporal bone that surrounds the inner ear anatomy in dogs. Common causes of trauma are vehicular accidents, falling from heights, and head injuries. Brain damage as a result of head trauma increases the likelihood of deafness. 
  • Exposure to Loud Noise: Loud noise is able to cause deafness because the intense vibration from the loud sound waves damages the hair cells in the cochlea. Persistent exposure to loud noises such as gunfire, explosives, machinery, and fireworks are common environmental noises that lead to deafness in dogs.
  • Medications or Toxins: Medications labeled ototoxic in dogs damage auditory structures and increase the risk of deafness. Aminoglycoside drugs such as gentamicin and amikacin, antineoplastic drugs such as cisplatin, salicylate, diuretics, and antiseptics are labeled potentially ototoxic and vestibulotoxic. Always give dogs prescription medication that is prescribed by a licensed veterinarian.
  • Congenital Conditions: Puppies with two copies of the merle gene have congenital deafness. Occasionally, dogs with merle genes also have blindness and are physiologically sterile. Australian Shepherd Dogs, Australian Koolies, and Border Collies are breeds commonly affected by congenital conditions. Dalmatians are more likely to have congenital deafness as a breed. 
  • Systemic Diseases: Endocrine diseases such as Cushing’s disease and Adisson’s disease cause deafness in dogs. Changes in the dog’s metabolism alter blood flow and nerve function. The changes affect the auditory structures and reduce hearing. Metastatic cancers cause growths inside the ear that end up causing conductive hearing loss and eventual permanent deafness.
  • Tumors: An ear tumor is a mass or lump of abnormal cells that form in the ear. Ear canal tumors are able to cause conductive hearing loss due to increased ear discharge, swelling, and abscesses. Deafness occurs when the inner ear or middle ear is involved. 
  • Autoimmune Disorders: Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) in animals is rare, idiopathic, or of unknown cause. The data on SNHL in animals is minimal, and further research is required. Human studies show SNHL is an autoimmune-linked disease characterized by a progressive fluctuating bilateral asymmetric loss of hearing that develops over several weeks to months. The SNHL data on humans indicates a potential pathway towards understanding autoimmune SNHL occurrence in dogs. 

Can Hearing Problems Make a Dog Deaf?

Yes, hearing problems can make a dog deaf. Dog deafness is a pathologic process that affects the internal structures or nerves of the ear. Hearing problems caused by old age, infection, blockages, and trauma cause hearing problems that lead to deafness in dogs.  The initial loss of hearing results in deafness as the damage increases and the sound's anatomical and neurological pathways to the brain are permanently disrupted. 

Is There a Device that Helps Dog Hearing Loss?

Yes, there is a device that helps dogs with hearing loss. Dog hearing aids are adaptations of human hearing aids. The human hearing aid is mounted to the dog’s collar, and earpieces are placed in the dog’s ears. The hearing aid amplifies the sound in the ear canal and aims to improve hearing in dogs with hearing loss. A dog hearing aid is yet to be developed. A human hearing aid modified for dogs costs between $150 and $3000, depending on the brand and the hearing tests required.  Cochlear implants consist of a bundle of stimulating electrodes surgically inserted into one of the coils of the cochlea. Cochlear implant technology has the potential to help dogs with hearing loss but is yet to be used. The average cost for cochlear implant technology ranges between $20,000 and $25,000. 

What Type of Breeds Are More Prone to Hearing Problems?

The types of breeds that are more prone to hearing problems include Dalmatians, French Bulldogs, Border Collies, and French Bulldogs. Dalmatians have a genetic deafness caused by loss of blood supply to the cochlea and degeneration of the hair cells of the organ of Corti. Statistically, “Eight percent of all Dalmatians are bilaterally deaf and 22% are unilaterally deaf - a 30% total with some deafness”, according to Louisiana State University, School of Veterinary Medicine. French bulldogs and Dachshunds get their dappled pigmentation from merle or piebald genes. French Bulldogs and Dachshunds that carry the merle gene from both parents are born deaf, or blind, and sterile and have a solid white coat and blue eyes.

How to Tell if Your Dog is Deaf?

To tell if your dog is deaf, check the signs listed below. 

  • Lack of Responsiveness: Lack of responsiveness is when the dog fails to immediately react to stimuli, such as other dogs barking, clapping, and doorbells. A dog that fails to react to its name being called is a common example of a lack of responsiveness. The dog is slow to notice and does not react to sounds in the environment. Lack of responsiveness is one of the most common signs of deafness in dogs. Visit a vet immediately when a dog lacks responsiveness to determine the diagnosis and appropriate treatment. 
  • Disinterest in Sounds: Disinterest in sounds when the dog does not react to the presence of typically distracting sounds. A dog paying no attention to the sound of a door opening or their favorite squeaky chew toy is a sign of disinterest in sounds. The behavior is interpreted as a lack of playfulness and is especially obvious in typically high-energy dogs with sudden energy drops. Visit a vet immediately when noticing disinterest in sounds in dogs to determine the diagnosis and appropriate treatment. 
  • Startling easily: Startling easily is when the dog elicits a stronger-than-normal reaction to being approached or touched. Touching the dog or coming near the dog causes them to jolt or scream as a response to being frightened. Prevent injury and stress in deaf dogs by ensuring they see you approach them. Visit a vet immediately when noticing startling easily in dogs to determine the diagnosis and appropriate treatment. 
  • Excessive barking: Excessive barking is when the dog persistently vocalizes. A deaf dog has more heightened senses of smell and sight. The slightest visual stimuli is enough to cause barking. Dogs with late-onset deafness bark excessively due to frustration. The dog feels anxiety due to losing their sense of hearing. Prevent excessive barking by providing the dog with a “visually quiet” area. Visit a vet immediately when noticing excessive barking in dogs to determine the diagnosis and appropriate treatment. 
  • Sleeping through noises: Sleeping through noises is when the dog has no interest in sudden sounds in the environment. Normally, most dogs have good sense even when asleep, especially guarding, working, and herding breeds. Most dogs wake up to loud sounds even when they are asleep. Dogs that sleep through loud noises are a strong sign of deafness. Visit a vet immediately when the dog is sleeping through loud noises to determine the diagnosis and appropriate treatment. 
  • Difficulty localizing sounds: Difficulty localizing sounds is when the dog is not able to find the source of a sound. Dogs with late-onset deafness typically hear the command but are unable to locate the sound source. Assist a deaf dog in localizing sounds by standing within the dog’s line of sight when using calls and non-verbal cues. Visit a vet immediately when the dog has difficulting localizingn sounds to determine the diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
  • Changes in behavior: Changes in behavior are when the dog exhibits unusual character. Dogs that are usually playful start to become less active and seem almost bored, for example. Deaf dogs are unable to hear their name being called or given commands, and the behavior change is often treated as a lack of interest. Some deaf dogs are aggressive and anxious because of the stress and fear caused by deafness.  Visit a vet immediately when noticing changes in behavior in dogs to determine the diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
  • Increased vocalization: Increased vocalization is when the dog is barking more often. Dogs with late-onset deafness excessively bark due to frustration. The dog gets anxious because of hearing loss. Visual stimuli make deaf dogs easily excited and cause the dog to bark more. Prevent excessive barking by providing the dog with a “visually quiet” area. Visit a vet immediately when noticing increased vocalization in dogs to determine the diagnosis and appropriate treatment.  
  • Unresponsiveness to Whistles: Unresponsiveness to whistles is when the dog does not react to whistles. The high pitch of whistles is a typically effective auditory stimulus in dogs. Dogs have better hearing than humans because they hear high-frequency sounds farther away. Visit a vet immediately when noticing unresponsiveness to whistles in dogs to determine the diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
  • Signs of Frustration: Signs of frustration are when the dog becomes increasingly agitated or anxious. Loss of hearing causes stress-induced changes in behavior in dogs. Deaf dogs are often described as less playful, have decreased alertness, and are easily startled. Some dogs become aggressive or irritable due to frustration, especially in late-onset deafness. Visit a vet immediately when noticing signs of frustration in dogs to determine the diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

What is the Most Effective Dog Hearing Loss Treatment?

The most effective dog hearing loss treatment depends on the underlying condition. Permanent hearing loss is irreversible in dogs. The most effective hearing loss treatment for hearing loss caused by foreign objects is removal, cleaning excess wax, and trimming excess ear hair. Surgery is the most effective treatment for hearing loss caused by tumors. Consulting a veterinarian about how to treat dog ear infection is the most effective treatment for hearing loss caused by ear infections. The vet does a physical exam and conducts an auditory evoked potential test (BAER) and an otoacoustic emission test (OAE) to check their level of cochlear function. Treatment plans are based on the cause of hearing loss. Treatment with prescription antibiotics and, or antifungal otic solutions is typically done for ear infections. 

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

The owner can reduce the risk of hearing loss in dogs by protecting the dog from loud noises visit the vet regularly for ear checks. Keep the dog away from loud noises such as fireworks, explosives, gunfire, and loud music. Protect the dog in a loud environment by providing a quieter area. Take the dog to the veterinarian immediately when the dog displays signs of ear infection such as head pawing, scratching, head tilting, and fluid coming out of the ear.

Are there Training Methods that Help Owners to Interact with their Deaf Dog?

Yes, there are training methods that help owners interact with their deaf dogs. Owners use sight and smell to train and communicate with deaf dogs using body language and hand signals. The dog is unable to fully comprehend the communication but the signals are non-verbal cues that they are able to identify with a certain action. Pointing a hand downwards is a common hand signal to get a dog to sit, for example. The training of a deaf dog takes patience and gradual conditioning with the use of positive reinforcement and conditioning using food and physical touch. 

What Happens if a Dog Hearing Loss is Left Untreated?

If a dog’s hearing loss is left untreated, the dog develops permanent hearing loss. Certain acquired conditions, such as otitis interna, ear tumors, and yeast infections, are treatable with the advice of a veterinarian. Detecting hearing loss early is key to giving the dog the best chance of avoiding permanent loss of hearing.

Can CBD Oil Help Dog Hearing Loss?

Yes, CBD Oil can help dog hearing loss. CBD does not treat hearing loss, but it helps manage discomfort and anxiety associated with losing the sense of hearing. CBD, or cannabidiol, is an oil extracted from cannabis sativa plants. Hemp does not contain a significant amount of THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. CBD oil interacts with a dog’s endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system regulates bodily functions, including anxiety, sleep, and mental health. Deaf dogs experience anxiety, and CBD oil has anti-anxiety properties that help calm a deaf or hearing-impaired dog.  The dogs are easily startled, which causes undue stress and harm. Owners considering CBD vs. traditional medication must consult a veterinarian for advice about the most effective treatment choices. CBD is safe to use in dogs and with traditional medication.