What Causes Deafness in Dogs? Is Your Bulldog At Risk?

Like humans, dogs can suffer from hearing loss. But what causes deafness in dogs? This condition is multi-faceted and can be triggered by various health problems and factors. It’s crucial to bring your dog to the vet if you suspect that it’s suffering from deafness. Early diagnosis will increase your pet’s chance of realizing full recovery.

In this post, I will discuss deafness in dogs, what causes it, and how to care for a deaf canine. This will help you manage whatever condition is causing deafness in your dog.

What causes deafness in dogs?

Deafness in dogs can be caused by a variety of conditions and circumstances. Here are the most common culprits according to experts:

🐶Genetics

what causes deafness in dogs

Congenital or genetic deafness in dogs is often related to their coat color. Dogs that carry the piebald and merle gene are more likely to be deaf. Such genes dictate the color of the canine’s coat as well as the pattern of its color.

The piebald gene leads to the absence of melanocytes or the cells that produce melanin. As a result, the dog will have a predominantly white or light coat. Also, there’s a high chance that the pooch will have blue eyes as a result of the lack of pigments.

Take note that the presence of the gene itself doesn’t automatically mean that the dog will be deaf right away. After all, not all Boxers or Bull Terriers are deaf. However, congenital deafness is more observed in dogs with this gene, which can occur in one or both ears.

Moreover, the merle gene is also associated with congenital deafness in dogs. Merle gives dogs a mottled fur color pattern together with blue eyes (ex. Australian Sheepdog).

Both the piebald and merle genes suppress the pigment cells. Therefore, aside from producing a unique coat and eye color, there are also high cases wherein canines with these genes become deaf.

Most cases of congenital deafness can be detected in the first three months of the dog’s life. If you’re getting a puppy from a breeder, it’s crucial to ask for a deaf test, much so for white or merle coat dogs.

🐶Ear infections  

If your pet is a healthy dog, one possible reason for deafness is ear infections. As wax builds up on your dog’s ears, it will trigger a massive infection. Over time, the wax and infection can rupture the eardrums, leading to deafness.

The good news is that many cases of ear infection-related deafness can be reversed if diagnosed early. However, take note that diagnosis for this type of infection requires the expertise of a veterinarian. For example, middle and inner ear infections need CT scans for proper diagnosis.

If your dog’s ears are infection-free, one thing you have to consider is the possibility of tumors. It usually occurs in the Eustachian tube, which blocks the ear and leads to deafness. And if the tumor is malignant, it can result in permanent deafness in dogs.

🐶Foreign objects

what causes deafness in dogs

For dogs that are in the pink of health, foreign objects might be the culprit to their deafness. Dogs are curious beings, and they can easily get tiny toys, pebbles, grass, and so on stuck in their nose and ears.

When a foreign matter gets dislodged in the ear canal, it will result in conductive deafness. Unlike in the case of congenital deafness, conductive deafness occurs because the sound is blocked from reaching the eardrums.

However, there’s also a possibility that the foreign object can puncture the eardrums. In this case, deafness would be more physiological than merely conductive.

Most of the time, foreign objects that cause deafness in dogs are stuck far deep into the ear canal. As a result, it can be difficult to see it on your own. So if you suspect that your dog is having hearing issues, the vet is always the best person to consult.

🐶Medications and drugs

Several medications can have an adverse effect on a dog’s cochlea. This often happens when a specific drug used to treat ear infections has a negative side effect. Such occurrence is called ototoxicity.

What happens is that the ear medication reaches a punctured eardrum. It’s also possible when the ototoxic medicine ruins the cochlea. Take note that this can happen fast, which can lead to hearing loss in just a few applications of the medication.

Aside from deafness, the dog may suffer from balance issues, ringing in the ears, and vertigo. This is the reason why you should never self-medicate your dog’s ear problems without consulting the veterinarian first.

While each dog will have varying reactions to ear medications, the most common culprits are tobramycin, propylene glycol, and neomycin. Again, these medications don’t always cause hearing loss. It depends on how your dog will react to it.

Ototoxicity can either cause temporary or permanent hearing loss. In some cases, the affected dog will regain its hearing once the medication has worn off. However, there are also some canines that suffer irreversible ear damage.

🐶Head trauma

what causes deafness in dogs

Head trauma is also one of the leading causes of deafness in dogs. Blunt force on the head can cause blood clots along with the inner ear. When this blockage takes place, the dog will experience deafness. Take note that this can occur with or without fractures on the canine’s head.

Being run over by a car, falling from elevated space, or suffering from bad zoomies can potentially lead to trauma-related hearing loss. This can be temporary or permanent, depending on the extent of the injury.

🐶Exposure to heavy metals

Exposure to large amounts of mercury or lead can cause hearing loss to canines. This happens because the heavy metals trigger inflammation in the ear and damage to the cochlea.

Ototoxic metals like arsenic, mercury, lead, and cadmium must be avoided at all costs. Take note that these heavy metals not only cause deafness to canines but also to humans.

🐶Prolonged exposure to loud noises

Another possible for deafness in dogs is exposure to loud noises. Take note that dogs have a heightened sense of hearing, so they are more susceptible to ear damage due to loud noises.

Loud fireworks, jet engines, explosions, gunfire, and the likes are enough to cause hearing loss to dogs, much so if located in close proximity. Moreover, the hearing loss can either be temporary or permanent. As with heavy metals, exposure to loud noises is also harmful to human ears.

🐶Old age

Lastly, we may have old age to blame for your dog’s poor hearing. Like humans, dogs’ cognitive and sensory functions will start to fail as they enter senior years. It often starts at the age of 10, and it goes downhill from there. Nevertheless, there are canines whose hearing remains intact even after all those years.

Take note that age-related deafness is irreversible. The parts of the ear responsible for hearing have succumbed to wear and tear, much like how your dog’s joints will start to fail. The best thing you can do is provide added care to give your deaf dog the best quality of life possible.

Signs of a deaf dog

Deafness in dogs can go unnoticed for some time, depending on how well you observe your pet. In general, the following signs indicate potential deafness. If your dog exhibits any of these, you should consider talking to the vet:

  • Ignoring verbal commands despite being fully trained
  • Excessive and pointless barking
  • Tilting or shaking of its head
  • An increase in startle reflex
  • Sleeping more
  • Failure to notice nearby sounds
  • Failure to come when called

To check if your dog is deaf, try clapping your hands. See if your dog’s ears will move or if it will look in your direction. You can also use a clicker or try calling its name.

Take note that dogs suffering from gradual deafness will start losing the ability to hear high-pitched sounds first. Try whistling or using a dog whistle. If you didn’t get any form of reaction, there’s a high chance that your pet is suffering from hearing loss.

Once you’ve somewhat confirmed that your dog is deaf, you should assess what happened in the past days. Did your dog experience head trauma? Did someone light up fireworks near your dog? These inputs will help the veterinarian assess your dog’s condition even more.

How is deafness diagnosed in dogs?

what causes deafness in dogs

Dogs can undergo brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER) testing to check for hearing loss. Most breeders will conduct this once the pooch turns two weeks old.

This test examines the outer to the inner part of the ear as well as the cranial nerve. It also includes some areas of the canine’s brainstem.

Moreover, this test is non-invasive, but sedation might be necessary if the vet needs to determine the range of hearing. Overall, the BAER test can detect conductive and sensorineural deafness.

Here’s how the test works in a nutshell:

  • The vet will place headphones on the dog’s ears
  • Next, electrodes will be inserted under the skin of the head
  • The vet will play clicking sounds through the headphone
  • Simultaneously, the electrical response from the head will be recorded into a machine.
  • Poor or lack of electrical response indicates hearing loss

Your local vet can perform the BAER test. However, not all veterinarians are trained or have equipment for this, so you should inquire first.

Depending on where you’re taking your dog, BAER tests will cost around $50 to $100. Usually, costs will be cheaper for puppies and higher for adult dogs.

Most of the time, breeders will handle this testing before placing the pups to their owners. Always ask for a BAER result certificate to ensure that the pup you’re getting has good hearing.

Treatment for deafness in dogs

In general, there’s no definitive cure for deafness in dogs. It’s a case-to-case basis, where the veterinarian will conduct an in-depth examination.

For deafness due to congenital defects and old age, there’s no known cure to date. Hearing loss due to severe ear infections, ototoxicity, and head trauma might also be impossible to reverse.

The prognosis of your dog’s hearing loss depends on the result of the vet’s examination. Sometimes, a surgical procedure can improve the dog’s hearing. However, results aren’t guaranteed, and it only works in some cases.

How to care for a deaf dog

Living with a deaf dog requires a lot of adjustments and lifestyle changes. The sad truth is that many deaf dogs end up in shelters because their owners don’t know how to deal with the disorder. It’s also challenging to train a deaf canine.

While it might be difficult, there’s a workaround to raise a deaf but happy dog. Here are some tips that will help you out:

🐶Keep the dog indoors

Deaf canines can’t hear oncoming cars or other similar hazards. It’s best to keep them indoors for their safety. For outdoor dogs, you must keep them leashed or contained in a fenced yard at all times.

🐶Let other people know

Aside from talking to your friends and neighbors about your dog’s deafness, you should also get a specialized tag. It should say something like “Hi, I’m Fido, and I’m deaf. Please call my owner”. This will let strangers know that your dog won’t respond to verbal commands.

🐶Place a bell on your dog’s collar

A bell on your dog’s collar will make it easier for you to find the pooch. Since deaf dogs can’t hear you, you can easily lose them inside a big house.

🐶Consider using a GPS collar

If your dog has the tendency to escape, you should put on a GPS tracker on its collar. While this isn’t an absolute solution, it will help in locating the pooch.

🐶Use visual signals

In place of audible commands, you can use a flashlight to get your dog’s attention. You can train your dog to come to you whenever it sees the light.

🐶Do not disappear

When it comes to deaf dogs, it’s important to announce your departure. You have to let your dog see you exit a door. This way, the doggo won’t become scared since it can’t hear or see anyone at home. Most importantly, you shouldn’t disappear while your deaf dog is asleep.

🐶Teach your kids how to wake a deaf dog

Remember that deaf canines have an increased startle reflex. Some will bite when you wake them up suddenly. Teach your kids that to wake your deaf dog, they just need to place a piece of food near its nose. In calmer canines, a mild blow of air in the face works. As much as possible, you shouldn’t touch your dog in the face when trying to wake it up.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is it common for dogs to go deaf?

A: It’s not really common for most dogs to go deaf. However, the risk increases as the canine grow older. This is very similar to how humans slowly lose their auditory acuity over the years. It’s always best to have your dog checked regularly so that the vet can pick up the early signs of deafness.

Q: What dog breeds are prone to deafness?

A: Any dog can have deafness, but breeds like Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog, American Bulldog, Dappled Dachshund, Boxers, Dogo Argentinos, and Doberman Pinschers are seen to be at high risk. Also, breeds with merle coats are more likely to suffer from congenital deafness due to the defect associated with the merle gene.

Q: At what age do dogs start losing their hearing?

A: Most dogs will start to experience a hearing decline at senior years. Senile deafness often occurs gradually, which peaks at 13 years. Some will have deafness completely, while others will be partial. Take note that this deafness is permanent, and no treatment is capable of reversing the hearing damage.

Q: Can deafness in dogs be cured?

A: Deafness can be cured to some extent, depending on what’s causing it in the first place. If the cause is blockages and buildup in the ear canal, there’s a high chance that it can be treated. However, if the problem is genetic or a serious health problem, the deafness might be permanent.

Q: How do you wake a deaf dog?

A: You can try blowing into the dog’s face as gently as you can. This will somehow startle the canine, so be ready to pet him or her. You can also try putting your hand in front of the canine’s nose. Your smell will help awaken the pooch.

Q: How do deaf dogs behave?

A: Deaf dogs often become less attentive and less obedient. Some will also start to lose their fright over loud sounds, including the vacuum or thunder. And since the pooch can’t hear and react to sounds, you’ll notice it becoming less active. However, excessive barking will usually ensue.

Final words  

What causes deafness in dogs? It can be due to congenital defects, dislodged foreign objects, ear infections, or ototoxicity. In some cases, canines will suffer from hearing loss related to head trauma, exposure to heavy metals, or exposure to loud noises. For senior dogs, old age is the common culprit.

Do you have a deaf dog? How are you raising the pooch? Share your tips below!

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