Have there been some unexplained changes in your dog’s behaviour recently? Are they clumsier than usual? Maybe they’re harder to wake up or aren’t responding like they used to? If so, they could be experiencing hearing loss, making you question: is my dog deaf?
This article has everything you need to know about deafness in dogs, from symptoms to adjusting to life with new deafness and what breeds are most likely to develop hearing loss.
- What causes deafness?
- How to spot deafness in dogs
- Breeds prone to deafness.
- Adjusting to life with a deaf dog
How to spot deafness in dogs
When it comes to looking at new symptoms for your dog, no one knows them better than you. So, if you feel like your little one has changed recently, but can’t quite put your finger on it, give this list a read and see if it matches.
A sudden increase in disobedience.
Are they not coming when called when they usually do?
Does your dog ordinarily bark at the door when someone knocks or rings the bell? Are they not noticing loud and sudden noises?
Do they seem less observant, making them jumpy? Have they not noticed you before you stroked or patted them?
Sleeping for longer
When they’re sleeping, and you call them, are they responding?
An increase in barking
Has their barking increased, or is it much louder than before?
Tilting their head to one side or losing balance.
Sometimes, if hearing loss is in one ear, it can make dogs tilt their head to one side or even stumble in that direction.
If your dog is experiencing several of these symptoms, we recommend visiting your vet as soon as possible. Occasionally, deafness can be a sign of something else, so the earlier they’re seen, the sooner things can be ruled out.
What causes deafness in dogs?
Every year, tens of thousands of dogs are diagnosed with deafness in the UK. Sometimes hearing loss is temporary, while for others, it’s permanent, but what causes it? The short answer is many things, but here are a few.
Like humans, as dogs grow older, their hearing deteriorates, some more than others. It’s a natural condition with nothing to worry about; it’s just a sign of a life well lived.
These are conditions that would have developed before your dog was born. So, a puppy could have been born with either minimal or no hearing or a gene that would pre-determine future hearing loss.
Chronic ear infections
Ear infections cause fluid to build up in the ear, and that buildup will cause hearing loss. This is often temporary, but untreated, it could cause permanent damage. Unfortunately, ear infections don’t go away on their own, so we advise booking an appointment as soon as symptoms arise.
Sometimes head traumas can directly damage your pet’s ear, the same as humans. Whether or not it can be fixed often depends on this case itself.
In most cases, ruptured eardrums will heal by themselves eventually, so the hearing loss will be temporary. However, in some severe cases, there can be permanent deafness.
Diseases, such as tumours
Tumours can change everyone’s lives, and sometimes, if one is near the head or in the ear, it can cause permanent effects on hearing. However, the true outcomes, effects and treatments of tumours are something that would be discussed between owners and vets.
Dogs living with deafness can live very normal lives. They have as much love, energy and intelligence as a dog that hears.
Breeds prone to deafness.
Unfortunately, -due to breeding practices- some breeds are more prone to developing hearing conditions than others. Here’s a list of some;
- English Setters
- Australian Shepherds
- Border Collies
- Cocker Spaniels
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
- Jack Russell Terriers
- Bull Terriers
- Boston Terriers
Please remember that this list does not guarantee they will go deaf; it’s more for owners of these breeds to be aware of the signs, just in case.
How can I help my deaf dog?
When your dog is diagnosed as being deaf, it can be a lot to take in. One of the first things we get asked when a dog is diagnosed as deaf is “what do I need to change?” The answer is, very little. Deaf dogs can have a regular life and do normal things like go to the park, socialise with other dogs and play fetch! Like when a human is born deaf or becomes deaf, life goes on. So, here are our tips in getting life going again.
Don’t change everything!
Deaf dogs learn to adapt to a life without sound very quickly, but that’s not to say they wouldn’t get stressed if they became deaf. They absolutely would. For dogs that are born deaf, they’ve never known any other way of life, but for Dogs that lose their hearing, becoming deaf can be a very stressful time. So, if things don’t need to change, don’t change them. Monitor your dog first, see what they, as an individual need help with and then go from there.
Speak to your dog.
Now that could seem weird. Speaking to a deaf dog? But this is one our most important tips, especially for dogs who’ve experienced losing their hearing. When humans speak, we create micro-expressions; this is what your dog reads when you talk to them. By speaking to them, they can read your emotions and intent.
Be mindful of how you wake them up.
Deaf dogs can sleep very deeply. To begin with, try gentle floor taps or paw strokes when waking them up. You’ll eventually find what works for you.
Play with them
Playing with your pet is an essential part of bonding. By playing with your dog, they’ll quickly learn their new boundaries and capabilities, all while having fun! At the same time, so will you. Another tip for playing is to buy visual toys and puzzles for them, for example frisbees and treat based toys; these can keep your dog’s brain very active and encourages them to use their other senses.
Train them with specific hand signals or BSL.
When you first trained your dog, you might have used a hand signal with your voice. If you did, simply return to that hand signal. If not, you can make a new one! You may have seen dogs on social media that understand sign language; all dogs have that capability with training and consistency. Why not challenge yourself by teaching yourself and your dog BSL?
Gently desensitise them to touch.
For Dogs without hearing, their sense of touch becomes very sensitive, so it’s essential to train it. Equally, it’s important for owners to learn their dogs (possibly new) boundaries. Keep in mind that this is something that might need to be done gradually and with patience. When your dog is calm and not expecting it, gently touch them and then reward them. You can go from touching near their head to further away as you both get more confident. This training is for if another dog, or even a child, comes up to your dog, there won’t be any animosity.
Learn to get their attention from afar.
They might not be able to hear you, but they can certainly see you and feel vibrations through the floor. You can tap the floor when you want their attention, or make sure you’re in eyesight of them. Being using these senses, experiment with what works for both of you when it comes to getting your dog’s attention.
Purchase an “I am deaf” collar, harness or lead
Getting a labelled collar, harness, or lead informs other people not to casually approach your pet, especially those you don’t know.
Safety on walks.
While out on walks, we recommend using caution if you choose to let your dog off the lead. If your dog is used to being off the lead, they might become distressed if they were suddenly not allowed to walk freely. So, we advise always keeping your eye on them if you let off the lead or taking them to a private park so they can roam in a controlled environment. If you don’t feel secure in let your dog off the lead, make sure you have a retractable one to imitate that freedom.
Our tips for helps a dog living with deafness are less about training and more about relearning what works and what doesn’t for you and your little one. If you do make any helpful changes eventually, the adaptations will become so routine you wouldn’t think twice about it. It will become your normal. Which apart from a few things, probably isn’t that different to a dog with hearing.
If you need any more help with your little one, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of our vets.