• Tue. May 28th, 2024

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


Jun 11, 2023
brindle Pit Bull Terrier mixed breed dog wearing a collar and looking toward the camera with a head tilt


brindle Pit Bull Terrier mixed breed dog wearing a collar and looking toward the camera with a head tilt
Dr. Athena Gaffud Photo

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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 its hearing, you must know the signs. Read on to find seven signs your dog is going deaf and to learn how to live with your pup and its disability.


The 7 Signs Your Dog Is Deaf

1. Not Responding to Its Name or Favorite Words

If your dog is not responding to its name or favorite words like “treat” or “walk”, it may be starting to lose its hearing. This is typically the first sign dog owners recognize when their dogs begin going deaf. A dog that used to leap to full attention at the mere sound of its 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.

brindle and white Pit Bull Terrier mixed breed dog wearing a red collar and looking up at the camera
Image Credit: Mary Swift, 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 its hearing, it may become jumpy, reactive, or even aggressive if it gets startled. These are usually just fear-based responses and not true aggression, so the best thing you can do is be patient and loving toward your pup.

white dog looking the panorama at El Capitan Tunnel View overlook in Yosemite National Park
Image Credit: Benny Marty, Shutterstock

4. Unresponsive to Everyday Sounds

You may notice your dog not reacting to everyday sounds in its environment that it would usually have some reaction to. For example, if your dog could hear the mailman coming from down the street and now suddenly shows no interest when he’s on the doorstep, it may be losing its 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 its head often. Some experts believe 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 its 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 be difficult to wake up from a deep sleep. You may need to nudge your pup or even shake it to rouse it from its slumber.

7. Putting Itself 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.

four dogs looking at the camera
Image Credit: Edgar Daniel Hernández Cervantes, Pexels

divider-dog paw

What Causes Deafness?

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

Sometimes a dog is deaf because the soundwaves cannot reach the nerves in its 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 pigmentation. 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 it can’t hear you or your commands? Absolutely you can! 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 avoid injury or dangerous situations. Remember, a deaf dog cannot hear incoming traffic, so never let it outside unsupervised.
  • Use hand signals. Just because your dog can’t hear your commands doesn’t mean that it can’t learn to recognize visual ones. Check out this guideto get started with doggy sign language.
  • Approach slowly. Deaf dogs may startle easily, so approach it slowly and carefully whenever you want to get your pup’s attention. If it’s asleep, place your hand before its nose so your smell awakens it.
  • Put a bell on its collar. Having a bell on your pup’s collar is useful if the two of you somehow separate. It won’t be able to hear you calling its name, but itsbell can alert you to its 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 the deafness, a round of antibiotics may be all it needs to heal and restore its hearing.

Featured Image Credit: Mary Swift, Shutterstock

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