Hearing Loss in Dogs
In most cases, your dog’s hearing is better than yours. For some dogs, their highly developed hearing allows them to hear incredibly high-pitched noises and pick up on softer sounds than most human ears can hear.
But what happens when they don’t have that hearing or lose it over time?
Just like humans, dogs experience hearing loss over the years as a normal side effect of aging and from high exposure to loud noises. When dogs suffer from hearing loss, they may struggle to follow spoken commands, be less aware of their surroundings, and get startled, anxious, or aggressive more easily.
In this post, we’ll lay out all the details on what contributes to hearing loss, how you can protect your dog’s hearing, and tips for how to care for a deaf or hearing-impaired dog.
Conditions Contributing to Hearing Loss in Dogs
There are a variety of different causes for hearing loss, but first it’s important to distinguish types of hearing loss. In general, you’ve got two main types: congenital deafness when a dog is born deaf and acquired deafness when a dog is born with normal hearing but loses later in life.
Causes for congenital deafness
When a dog is born deaf, there are two main reasons:
- Birth defects — if a puppy’s ear or nervous system doesn’t develop quite right, it can cause deafness at birth. This can be from bad genes or abnormal development, just like it could with humans.
- Genetics — genetic factors can also play a part in congenital deafness, particularly for specific breeds. Some of the most common dog breeds to have this issue include Dalmatians, Bull Terriers, Australian Cattle Dogs, English Setters, English Cocker Spaniels, Boston Terriers, and Parson Russell Terriers. Experts have found the most common genetic marker connected to deafness is having light-colored or white skin or coat or having light spots, dapples, or merle coats.
Causes for acquired deafness
While there’s not too much you can do about congenital deafness, you have more control over acquired deafness. In this case, dogs are very similar to humans when it comes to hearing loss. These are some of the most common causes:
- Age-related hearing loss is a progressive condition that often begins in the high-frequency range and can gradually affect the entire range of hearing. While it is more common in senior dogs, some younger dogs may also develop age-related hearing loss due to underlying health conditions or genetics. Symptoms of age-related hearing loss can include difficulty hearing soft sounds, ignoring commands or sounds that were once audible, and increased sensitivity to certain sounds.
Exposure to loud noises can negatively affect your dog’s hearing. Cumulative exposure to loud noises such as music, machinery, fireworks, gun shots, or plane and helicopter noises can cause permanent hearing loss. Sometimes even a single, extremely loud noise like gunshots or explosions can cause temporary or semi-permanent hearing loss as well. Symptoms of sensorineural deafness can include ignoring sounds, difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds, and changes in behavior, such as increased anxiety or irritability.
Ear infections — ear infections from bacteria, yeast, or other organisms can cause a buildup of debris and inflammation that can physically block the ear canal and make it harder for sound to get through. In most cases, once your vet has established what type of infection your dog has, they can give the right treatment and this can often fix any hearing loss that the infection caused.
Trauma — anything that could cause physical trauma to the brain, ear canal, or eardrum can cause hearing loss. This could be a car accident, excessive ear scratching, dog fight, or a bad fall.
Earwax or inflammation — if your dog’s ears seem to be really irritated and they’re not reacting to sounds as much, they may have a buildup of earwax or inflammation blocking their ear canal. This can often be an easy fix, but needs medical attention to get it properly and safely taken care of.
Preventative Actions to Reduce Hearing Loss
Reducing the amount of loud noise your dog is exposed to, both short term and repetitive, is the best way to protect their hearing. This can be done by utilizing canine hearing protection and avoiding unnecessary situations of noise exposure.
Ear Protection: If you know that your dog will be exposed to loud noises, consider using Rex Specs Ear Pro. They provide a noise reduction rating (NRR) of 31 decibels. This means that the can reduce noise levels by up to 31 decibels, which can help protect your dog's hearing during loud activities such as: Shooting, watching fireworks, and travel in airplanes, helicopters, and on motorcycles.
Limit Noise Exposure: Limiting your dog's exposure to loud noises can also help prevent hearing loss. For example, avoid taking your dog to loud events or limiting their exposure to heavy machinery.
Regular Check-Ups: Regular check-ups with your veterinarian can help detect hearing loss early. If detected early, some types of hearing loss can be managed or treated.
How to care for a deaf dog or dog suffering from hearing loss
If your dog has started to develop some hearing loss or is completely deaf, don’t panic — supporting a deaf dog adds a few extra challenges than a hearing dog, but it’s still very manageable. One deaf pup, Bonnie, made it to the top of Mt. Whitney with the help of her dad and two dog siblings.
To help you through this process, these are some tips that can make life with your hearing-impaired pup easier.
- Train hand signals — even if your dog isn’t deaf from the start, train with both hand and voice commands when you train so if they ever do become deaf, you’ll still have that training base to draw from.
- Use visuals and touch — since one of your dog’s senses is lacking, you’ll want to help them feel more secure by working more with the senses they do have. Train a tap or waving a hand in front of their face to get their attention. Make sure they can see you when you leave a room or tap them awake to let them know you’re there or leaving.
- Microchip your dog — deaf dogs can often get lost, so it’s even more important to ensure your dog is microchipped and has a collar with ID tags just in case.
- Use a vibration collar — this isn’t a shock collar. It’d be like a gentle phone vibration on their neck that just gets your dog’s attention in the place of calling their name. You can train your dog to either look at you or recall with the vibration collar.
Hearing loss is a common issue in dogs, and it can have a significant impact on their quality of life. Understanding the different conditions that can lead to hearing loss and taking preventative measures can help reduce the risk of hearing loss in your dog. If your dog is deaf, taking some extra steps to ensure their safety and well-being can help them live a happy and healthy life.