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Home > Dogs > How to Tell If My Dog Is Deaf: 7 Vet-Reviewed Signs

How to Tell If My Dog Is Deaf: 7 Vet-Reviewed Signs

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Dr. Athena Gaffud

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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As with humans, dog disabilities come in many forms. While you might initially think of a paralyzed pup strapped into a wheelchair or jumping around on three legs, we must consider invisible disabilities, too. Deafness is a hidden issue that develops in many dogs and can be hard to recognize if you don’t know what to look for.

If you think your dog may be losing their hearing, you must know the signs. Read on for seven signs that your dog is going deaf and how to live with your pup and their disability.


The 7 Signs Your Dog Is Deaf

1. Not Responding to Their Name or Favorite Words

If your dog is not responding to their name or favorite words like “treat” or “walk,” they may be starting to lose their hearing. This is typically the first sign that dog owners recognize when their dogs begin going deaf. A dog that used to leap to full attention at the mere sound of their leash being picked up may now not even look up when you walk by. Most dogs don’t ignore their owners when they hear them saying their name or favorite buzzwords, so if yours isn’t responsive anymore, it’s time for a check-up.

labrador retriever dog lying down against illuminated living room
Image By: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

2. Out-of-Character Disobedience

Dogs that are historically well-behaved and easy to control may stop responding to your commands if they’re losing their hearing, making it appear as if they are being disobedient. It’s not actually that they’re being purposefully ignorant of your calls and commands, but that they simply can’t hear you.

3. Startles Easily

Going deaf can be frightening for dogs because the world that used to be full of sounds is suddenly silent. In addition, they start relying on their other senses, so something that wouldn’t have startled them before, like a gust of wind or unexpected touch, can petrify them when they’re deaf. If your dog is losing their hearing, they may become jumpy, reactive, or even aggressive if they get startled. These are usually just fear-based responses and not true aggression, so the best thing that you can do is to be aware of their limitations. Never touch your dog before being sure that they have seen you and expect the feeling. If you scare them and they respond negatively, please be patient toward them and understanding about your pup’s condition.

dog scared hiding under bed blanket
Image Credit: Aleksey Boyko, Shutterstock

4. Unresponsive to Everyday Sounds

You may notice your dog not reacting to everyday sounds in their environment that they would usually have some reaction to. For example, if your dog could hear the mail carrier coming from down the street and now suddenly shows no interest when they’re on the doorstep, your dog may be losing their hearing. Likewise, if you drop something and it makes a loud bang or breaks, and your dog doesn’t respond, that’s another good indicator of hearing loss.

5. Head Tilting or Shaking

A dog starting to lose hearing may shake or tilt their head often. Some experts believe that this is because the dog thinks doing so will clear the ears so they can hear better. But of course, both head tilting and shaking can indicate things like ear infections or blockages, which can lead to hearing loss if not treated. So, if your dog is suddenly shaking or tilting their head often, a visit to the vet should be in order.

boxer dog tilted head
Image Credit: Charlotte Yealey, Pixabay

6. Changes in Sleeping Patterns

Dogs going deaf tend to sleep more often than those with full hearing. This is likely because they’re not disturbed by environmental noises that would wake their hearing counterparts.

Deaf dogs may often find it difficult to wake up from a deep sleep.

7. Putting Themselves in Danger

Thanks to their incredible hearing, dogs can assess when danger is nearby. For example, they know not to cross the street because they can hear a car coming down the road. Unfortunately, dogs with hearing loss don’t know what’s happening in their environment and may have a lack of inhibition that can get them into serious trouble.

european german shepherd on the road
Image Credit: Anna Zhidkova, Shutterstock

divider-dog paw

What Causes Deafness?

Deafness can occur due to many factors, such as head injuries, congenital defects, old age, tumors, chronic infections, or drug toxicity. Certain breeds are more prone to developing congenital deafness, including Australian Shepherds, Boston Terriers, and Dalmatians.

Sometimes a dog is deaf because the sound waves cannot reach the nerves in their ears. Others become deaf when degenerative nerve changes begin taking place as they age. Even exposure to some toxins and medications like arsenic, antibiotics, and chemotherapy drugs can cause deafness.

The most common cause of deafness in dogs, however, is associated with white coats. It’s often seen in dogs with white, roan, piebald, or merle genes. A classic example is the Dalmatian. According to the Dalmatian Club of America, 22% of these dogs only hear with one ear, and 8% are totally deaf.

Is Deafness Treatable?

Unfortunately, deafness present at birth is irreversible. However, if it’s caused by ear inflammation or blockages of the external ear canal, surgical treatments may be helpful. Deafness caused by bacterial infections may respond well to antibiotics. Recovery from deafness caused by medication or toxins is rare.

brown border collie dog during visit in vet
Image Credit: Kamil Macniak, Shutterstock

How to Live With a Deaf Dog

So, your vet has determined that your dog is deaf—now what? Can you live harmoniously with your dog when they can’t hear you or your commands? Absolutely! Living with a deaf dog is a bit of a learning curve, more so for you than your dog. Some modifications to your lifestyle should be made to accommodate your pup’s condition:

  • Keep a closer eye on your pup to help them avoid injury or dangerous situations. Remember, a deaf dog cannot hear incoming traffic, so never let them outside unsupervised.
  • Use hand signals. Just because your dog can’t hear your commands doesn’t mean that they can’t learn to recognize visual ones. Check out this guide to get started with doggy sign language.
  • Approach slowly. Deaf dogs may startle easily, so approach them slowly and carefully whenever you want to get your pup’s attention. If they’re asleep, place your hand before its nose so your smell awakens it.
  • Put a bell on their collar. Having a bell on your pup’s collar is useful if the two of you somehow separate. They won’t be able to hear you calling their name, but the bell can alert you to their whereabouts.


Final Thoughts

A deaf diagnosis is not a death sentence. Your dog can still live a long and wonderful life despite being unable to hear. Remember, deafness isn’t always permanent, so if you think your dog’s hearing is starting to go, it’s best to have your veterinarian examine them for confirmation. If an infection is causing temporary deafness, a round of antibiotics and antiinflammatories may be all that they need to heal and restore their hearing.

Featured Image Credit: tortugadatacorp, Pixabay

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