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canine health problems
Brown dog wearing a harness

The essentials

  • Age-related hearing loss in dogs is common — Many dogs will experience hearing loss as they age, typically once they’ve reached two-thirds of their life expectancy. Only 5-10% of dogs experience total hearing loss in one or both ears, unrelated to age.
  • It’s not “selective hearing” — You may think your dog is becoming more stubborn, but it’s more likely that they’re having a hard time hearing you.
  • Dogs with deafness need special care — If your dog is deaf, they’ll need extra attention because it’s harder for them to feel safe, calm, and go about their day. Most of all, though, your dog needs patience and understanding.

Are you thinking about adopting a dog that’s deaf? Can your senior dog not hear as well as they used to? Dogs with hearing loss or deafness need extra care and attention from their owners. Here are steps you can take to give your pup a comfortable, safe, and happy life.

Tips to care for your deaf dog 

If your dog has deafness or you’re considering adopting a deaf dog, it’s important to learn about the steps you can take as a pet parent to give them a safe and happy life.

Training. Training a deaf dog can be very difficult because you can’t use any audible signals or stimuli to help them learn. Instead, you’ll have to rely on body language, eye contact, facial expressions, and hand signals to communicate. Equally important in the training process is treats, a nearly universal form of communication for dogs, no matter what impairments they have. If your hand signals are clear and consistent, and you give lots of treats to reward desired behavior, most deaf dogs are very trainable.

Safety. Dogs with little to no hearing are more vulnerable to injury and death from objects or animals that they can’t hear coming, like cars and predators. The biggest danger is cars, so you should never let your dog roam free unless you have a fenced-in yard. You should put a bell on your dog’s collar so you can always hear where they are. If your pup happens to wander out of sight, a bell will help you find them.

Sleep. Waking up a deaf dog requires a bit more planning and caution than waking a dog with full hearing. The easiest way to wake a sleeping deaf dog is to gently tap your foot to make a small “thump” vibration a few feet away from them. The vibration will get your dog’s attention, but you won’t be close enough to startle them. Also, make sure to have a treat in your hand so that you can comfort them if they’re a bit startled. Finally, approach your dog from the side or rear in case they may be startled enough to bite.

Equipment. To help your dog stay safe and comfortable, you may need special equipment such as a no-pull harness, name tag, and a vest. A harness will help your pup stay safe on walks when they won’t be able to respond to visual commands since they’re next to/in front of you. Vests and name tags make your dog easier to see and find in case they get lost.

Toys. When it comes to toys, you’ll have to go beyond the classic “squeaky.” Light-up toys, scented chew bones, and treat dispensers are all perfect for hearing-impaired dogs. These toys double down on the sensory areas that your pup can enjoy. Kongs, a non-toxic rubber toy that you can hide treats inside, is ideal for dogs who aren’t going to enjoy squeaks or other sound-focused toys.

What causes deafness in dogs?

There are five different reasons why your dog may already have hearing loss or may experience it later in life. Learn more about each below:

  • Old age. This is the most common reason for hearing loss and deafness in dogs. Many dogs will lose some of their hearing as they age , even if they don’t become deaf.
  • Present at birth. This is uncommon, but some dogs are born deaf in one or both ears. When present at birth, deafness is usually the result of toxic or viral damage occurring when the puppy was still a fetus. Genetics may play a role, too — studies show certain dog breeds are more prone to congenital deafness.
  • Infection. Chronic ear infections, which cause inflammation and damage to a dog’s eardrum, can lead to partial or total loss of hearing. Exposure to toxic drugs such as penicillin can also cause deafness. Unfortunately, side effects from some ear medications may also lead to hearing loss. Make sure to ask a vet about this risk if your dog has chronic ear infections.
  • Loud noises. Loud noises can rupture a dog’s eardrum as they can in humans and other animals. Being too close to gunfire, fireworks, or even a thunderclap can cause permanent hearing loss.
  • Injury. Trauma within or near the ears can damage a dog’s eardrum.

Are some dogs more likely to be born with hearing loss?

Yes, some dog breeds are more likely to be born deaf. Congenital deafness can be found in more than 100 breeds, including the following:

  • Dalmatians
  • Bull terriers
  • Australian heelers
  • Catahoulas
  • English cocker spaniels
  • Parson Russell terriers
  • Boston terriers

Some dogs may regain their hearing

Depending on the cause of your dog’s hearing loss, it may or may not be permanent. Hearing loss can be caused by a blockage to the ear canal or bacterial infection. In these cases, many dogs can regain their hearing with treatment. But, if a dog’s deafness is due to a noise injury, trauma, or toxins, it’s unlikely for them to regain their hearing.

How to tell if your dog is deaf

Sometimes, it’s easy to tell if your dog’s hearing has changed. Other times, it isn’t. Here are some of the signs of deafness and hearing loss that you should look out for:

  • Failing to respond when called. If your dog isn’t responding when you call, hearing troubles might be the reason why.
  • Startled by loud noises. When dogs are startled by loud noises, it may be because they’ve been struggling to hear anything at all, and being able to hear the loud noise came as a shock. Conversely, failing to respond to loud noises is a sure sign of hearing loss as well, since these loud noises will no longer be very noticeable to your pup.
  • Barking non-stop or making unusual sounds. Barking for no reason at all may be explained by your dog’s confusion, not being able to hear themselves bark. If they want to give a warning bark or a friendly yap, but can’t hear themselves do it, they’ll try again and again
  • Sleeping through sounds that usually wake them. Does your dog normally get up the moment you come downstairs in the morning, shake their food bowl, or walk through the door? If they suddenly stop responding, hearing loss could be the explanation.

If you believe your dog is experiencing hearing loss, it’s important to have them evaluated by a veterinarian. They’ll be able to diagnose if your dog has hearing loss, what caused it, and help you understand how to best care for your pup.

Frequently asked questions

How hard is it to take care of a deaf dog?

Deaf dogs require a lot more patience, dedication, and time than dogs without hearing impairments. That said, if you can give extra TLC to your deaf dog, you can both enjoy a happy and fulfilling life together.

Can a deaf dog live a normal life?

Yes, absolutely! Hearing loss doesn’t seem to affect a dog’s quality of life. Dogs with hearing loss are very trainable and great companions. That said, deaf dogs that aren’t properly cared for can suffer indirectly from anxiety caused by not being able to feel safe, and are at a higher risk for injuries that their hearing impairment prevents them from avoiding.

How do you make a deaf dog happy?

It’s all about the love and patience you give them. Deaf dogs aren’t different from dogs that can hear normally; they just communicate differently. Use facial expressions, treats, and heaping amounts of physical affection to show your dog they’re safe and cared for. Outside of that, caring for a deaf dog looks no different than providing a happy life for any other dog.

Are deaf dogs a good pet for a family?

Deafness doesn’t seem to affect a dog’s suitability for families, but the children in your household need to be educated about a deaf dog’s needs. If everyone in the house is on the same page and is motivated to care for a hearing-impaired pup, it can be a wonderful situation for all.

Do deaf dogs suffer?

Hearing loss can be a troubling experience for dogs and humans alike. Dogs that lose their hearing may experience anxiety or confusion because they aren’t able to fully comprehend what’s happening to them. Furthermore, the cause of their deafness may also cause pain and suffering. Dogs that lose their hearing from infections, injuries, or trauma need to be treated by vets to make sure they aren’t experiencing anything painful on top of their hearing loss.