Read to learn about the factors that contribute to hearing loss in dogs and how to help dogs navigate life in case of deafness.

By Dr. R. Selvakkumar, Ph.D.,

Deafness is the loss of hearing in one or both ears and loss of hearing may be temporary or permanent. Based on the root cause and severity, it may be partial or total hearing loss. Deafness in dogs may be present at birth (congenital) or as a result of infection, trauma obstruction, tumours and old age (Acquired). Frankly speaking, deafness due to genetics, old age, and irreparable trauma is permanent and incurable. However, acquired deafness by infection and blocked ear canal can be cured by timely diagnosis and prompt treatment.  

White pigmentation in their coats is associated with deafness at birth in dogs. Dog breeds like Dalmatian, Rajapalayam dog, Bull Terrier, English Cocker Spaniel, Russell Terrier, and Boston Terrier are commonly affected by congenitally originated deafness.Selective breeding practices offer the only tools to reduce such deafness in those breeds. 

Causes of Deafness In Dogs

The cause of hearing loss will differ depending on the type of deafness. It can be ruled out by a thorough screening of the affected dog’s history. 

Congenital Deafness: Dog breeds with white pigmentation are more likely to be affected by deafness. Selective breeding with genetically proven animals for breeding is the only option to reduce the incidence of congenital deafness in dogs.

Acquired Deafness: Acquired deafness is noticed in the dog after birth. This may happen at any time in the life of a dog from puppyhood to old age. The following are the causes of acquired deafness in dogs.

  • Old age: In old age, the brain and nervous system go through natural changes. The brain and spinal cord lose nerve cells and weight which will affect the normal function of the CNS.  Nerve cells may begin to pass messages more slowly and this will affect the response including the auditory system. 
  • Continuous exposure to loud noises: Prolonged exposure to loud noise can cause hearing loss by damaging the hair cells in the inner ear of dogs. Sensory hair cells are specialized secondary sensory cells that mediate the senses of hearing. In deafness, due to persistent intense noise or trauma, recovery is unlikely.
  • Blockages: Obstruction in the ear canal can also affect the hearing ability of the dog. Obstruction or blockage may be by wax build-up, ear hair, grass, fluids, and any foreign bodies. Periodically veterinary check-ups and timely diagnosis of the above condition will be helpful to free from the temporary deafness.
  • Injury in the ear canal, eardrum, or brain
  • Ear infections and inflammation
  • Tumours of the ear
  •  Drug toxicity (Ototoxicity): TheEars are special sense organs whose principal functions are hearing and maintaining equilibrium. Aminoglycoside, antibiotics, erythromycin, polymyxin B, and cisplatin can affect the hearing and equilibrium which are the principal functions of the ear.

Signs of hearing loss in dogs

  • Sudden disobedience, nonresponsive/ ignoring/ confused response to verbal commands and failure to respond to high-pitched sounds and everyday sounds, like a knocking.
  • An increased response in the startle reflex.
  • Excessive barking without any reason.
  • Apathy or an increase in sleep or lethargy.
  • Shaking or tilting of its head in infection/ lack of ear movement.

Diagnosis

If a dog is suspected of loss of hearing, it is important to make an appointment with your veterinarian to ensure appropriate treatment for the cause of their deafness.

A complete physical examination must be done to rule out the causative factor for deafness. The ear canal will be examined for any abnormalities, including the build-up of excess wax or debris, signs of infection, inflammation, or injury.

Examination starts from the external ear and goes for x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, or neurological exams in needy situations to reveal any underlying conditions affecting the dog’s hearing. 

If we suspect hearing loss in a dog in any form, we can test their hearing by clapping or making loud noises and watching for their reaction.

To testfor partial or unilateral hearing:  

  1. Try exposing your dog to sounds on one ear at a time.
  2. Snap your fingers close to both the ears one by one 

3.If they respond on one side but not on the other one, they might have hearing losson one side. 

To diagnose hearing loss, first conduct a hearing test followed by a physical exam to determine possible causes. If you suspect an ear infection, a swab and culture will confirm the type of infection and the best treatment for it.

Treatment

  • Treatment for hearing loss in dogs depends on the source of their deafness.  Deafness due to infections can be treated with antibiotics
  • Obstruction can be treated surgically.
  • Hearing loss due to accumulation of wax can be reverted by removal of wax.
  • Hearing loss due to genetic origin is difficult to revert.
  • Hearing loss due to drug toxicity, heavy metal exposure, and loud noises is often permanent.

Management of deaf dog

  • Dedication and patience towards the deaf dog will make the dog’s life better.
  • Instead of verbal commands, train your pet to understand touch or hand signals.
  • Stomping on the ground also works to get a hearing-impaired pet’s attention.
  • Micro-chippingand collars with ID tags will help to trace a deaf dog in case of missing.
  • We can easily handle the deaf dog by communicating through signals and this needs proper training.

Whether it is temporary or permanent, hearing loss is a matter of serious concern. As a pet owner, it is our duty to ensure the dog can continue living comfortably. Mix and match different training can ease the dog’s potential stress with this new experience. With patience and time, life for the deaf pet can continue as normal.

 Professor and Head, Department of Livestock Production Management

Veterinary College and Research Institute,  Theni-625534

Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University

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