If your dog seems to be going deaf, then this post on everything you need to know about hearing loss in dogs is for you.
Before I continue let me introduce the sweetheart in the picture (the 4 legged one!) our deaf and blind dog Josephine. Her dad was her favourite person as you can tell. Sadly she’s no longer with us but she was quite old when we adopted her, totally deaf and could only see light or shadows. After one year she lost the rest of her sight.
While partial or full hearing loss in senior dogs is not an absolute, it is relatively common. I know how rough it can be knowing your dog is having hearing problems, but there is good news. That’s right good news. First of all depending on the reason, your dog may gain back his hearing. If, however, it’s an issue that is not reversible your dog will begin to rely on his other senses which will become more acute, and he will still be able to live a very happy, good quality life. I have had deaf dogs, although they were already deaf when I adopted them, and they all had great lives.
Causes of hearing loss in dogs
- Untreated ear infection
- Birth defects
- Old age
- Exposure to heavy metals
- Blocked ear canal due to wax buildup, inner ear hair, grass
- Drug toxicity
- Repeated exposure to loud noises
Signs to watch out for
- Sleeping more deeply
- Doesn’t react to noises/squeaky toys/doorbells/knocking/clapping/barking the way he used to
- He doesn’t know you’re in the room until he sees you, or you touch him
- Shakes his head a lot
- Barks a lot
- Paws at his ears
- Doesn’t respond when you give him a cue
- Startled when he wakes up, because he didn’t hear you approaching
- Difficulty waking him up
It’s very simple – stand behind him and jingle your keys or clap really loudly. Do his ears move? Does he turn his head? How quickly/or slowly does he respond?
If your dog has lost hearing in both ears you won’t get a response, but what if it’s only one ear/partial hearing loss? Try snapping your fingers close to each ear and watch for a reaction. .
Diagnosing hearing problems
Now that you’ve determined your dog is experiencing some degree of hearing loss, your next step should be a visit to your vet. When booking the appointment I strongly advise you let them know the problem and convey a sense of urgency to get yourself seen as soon as possible. The longer it takes the worse the problem can become, and a reversible condition may no longer be.
A good way to prepare for your visit would be to make as many notes as you can about –
- When you first noticed a problem
- What made you think there was something wrong
- Any changes in behaviour – eating, sleeping, interest in playing…
- Whatever else you can think of
During your appointment your vet will ask you questions (and that’s when your list will come in handy), and then he’ll do a general checkup and of course exam your dog’s ears. Things he’d be looking for include – the state of the ear drum, buildup of wax, a foreign object, inflection, hair, inflammation… He may also take a swab or culture for testing.
Treatment and Prevention
There’s not a lot you can do about age related hearing loss. However, regular vet checks to keep your dog’s ear canals clean and free from wax and hair build up, are a good idea, especially if you have a dog with floppy ears! If you suspect he has an ear infection or any problems with his ears, see the vet right away.
How to communicate with a deaf dog
It sad knowing how many dogs are euthanised simply because they can’t hear well…or at all. It certainly does not have to detract from their quality of life or yours. Here are some suggestions on how to communicate with a deaf dog.
If your dog is only partially deaf, talking louder will help. Okay that was obvious!!
Use a flashlight or laser pointer to get his attention, but never shine either in his eyes
If your pup is playing in the garden at night, flicking the lights on and off will get his attention
A stomp on the floor with a heavy shoe or boot will cause vibrations your dog will feel
Teach your dog hand signals. For example, when I taught Jack to sit (he’s not deaf) I always paired the word with a hand signal, so now I don’t have to say anything. Should he ever lose his hearing I can still tell him what I want him to do. If your dog is already deaf, look out for a behaviour you like and reward it. If your dog happens to be sitting, use the hand signal you’ve chosen for “sit” then give him a treat, and do it each time he’s sitting. It shouldn’t take long for him to understand what that hand signal means. Choose another signal for come etc… Make sure each hand signal is different, clear and visible from a distance.
If you want to wake him up or get his attention without startling him, stomping your foot or bumping into something near him should cause a vibration he’ll feel. You could also stand near him and lightly touch him or put a treat under his nose so he wakes up to something pleasant
Another way to get his attention is to throw a very soft and light toy into his line of sight
When you leave the room try and let him see what you’re doing so he won’t suddenly worry when he can’t find you
Keeping your deaf dog safe
- Don’t let him run off leash, unless it’s in an enclosed area
- Use a long training lead which will give him freedom to run, without the fear of losing him
- Pay closer attention to your surroundings when out walking because your dog was used to hearing what’s approaching – he’ll rely on you for that now
- Attach a bell to his collar so you can hear him in the house, and hopefully if he gets out as well
- If the dog park is too overwhelming for right now, play dates with his doggie friends will keep him active and socialising, but in a more controlled and stress free setting
- If you have kids running around the house or visitors dropping by, don’t let them startle the dog. Explain the best way to approach as we talked about in the above paragraph
- In addition to his collar, ID tag and microchip, have a tag that says “deaf dog” as well
- A GPS tracker is a great safety feature, especially if you’re taking him travelling or out and about
Adopting a deaf dog
A deaf dog is as great a family addition as one who can hear, and there’s no reason they can’t fit into a home with children as well. The same criteria you would use for adopting a hearing dog is what you would use when adopting a deaf one.
All dogs, whether hearing impaired or not, need love, time, patience, training, socialisation, help building confidence and a happy home. There is also no reason to think they are harder to train as hand signals will be used instead of verbal cues, you just have to be a bit more aware of how you use your hands around your dog.
Everything you need to know about hearing loss in dogs – conclusion
I know it’s a difficult time for you, but imagine how your dog is feeling? You can understand what’s going on, he doesn’t and may be feeling confused, scared, or nervous. Of course there will be challenges while everyone acclimates to what will be your new “normal” – but as long as you keeping loving him, and showing compassion and patience you’ll all be fine.
I hope this post on hearing loss in dogs has helped you see that life for, and with, a deaf dog can be just as wonderful as before, with a few “minor” adjustments.
Did you adopt a deaf dog or did your dog lose his hearing? Do you know the reason? What adjustments have you made that helped? Sharing helps others so please leave a comment below.
I would like to invite you to join Senior Dog Care Club, a new Facebook group for senior dog parents. There you will find lots of helpful tips and advice, a place to ask questions and share experiences. I look forward to welcoming you.