Hearing Loss in Dogs
Submitted by Lisa A. Yackel, CVPM, PHR
Hospital Administrator at Case Veterinary Hospital
Both personally and professionally, I have been exposed to dogs who suffer from hearing loss. Several years ago, my own dog became temporarily deaf due to a side effect from an ear medication we were using to treat a minor ear infection. I must admit, I was glad it only lasted a few days, because it did dramatically change my relationship with her during that time. I know that I would have had to really beef up my training if the condition had continued as a permanent one.
This Christmas, I became exposed to another occurrence close to home. My sisterâ€™s dog has become deaf as she has aged. Although we had noticed her not hearing our calls, etc, the diagnosis was rendered a certainty when she stopped responding in her normal way to loud noises like fireworks and thunder. For her, the deafness seemed to cocoon her from her anxiety trigger points and she actually seems to be calmer and less agitated.
Hearing loss as pets age is fairly common and similar to what we see in older humans. For most, it is gradual and the owners tend to handle the changes as they occur along with other geriatric conditions like blindness, arthritis, neurosis, etc. Other causes of deafness include ear infections, injury to the ear, medications that cause ototoxicity or damage to the ear (this is what happened with my own dog), prolonged exposure to loud noise, or sudden acoustic trauma (gun shot at close range, etc).
A definitive diagnosis of canine hearing loss is possible only with a Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER) test, which measures the brainâ€™s electrical activity in response to auditory stimuli. Generally, most veterinarians use a less scientific method to test the hearing. Observation of how the dog responds to stimuli in the clinical setting as well as the owners observations at home is the usual methodology. Symptoms are typically behavioral, including:
Â·Non responding when called
Â·Confusion with trained verbal cues
Â·Ignoring sounds, such as those from squeaky toys, hand clapping, or doorbells
Â·Sleeping through noise
Â·Startling or snapping when woken or touched from outside the field of vision
Â·Unusual vocal sounds
Â·Disorientation in familiar settings
The hearing loss can be in one ear or in both, unilateral or bilateral deafness.
Additionally, we do see congenital hearing loss in puppies or younger dogs. There are over 80 breeds that have a higher risk of deafness as well as certain coat colors that have a higher risk. Merle, white, or piebald genes, which control skin and coat pigmentation also seem to have a higher genetic likelihood of being linked to deafness. Some high risk breeds include:
Â· Australian Shepherd
Â· Old English Sheepdogs
Â· Cocker Spaniels
Â· Harlequin Great Danes
Â· Bull Terrier
Although there is currently no cure for hearing loss, there are many things you can do to help your dog once diagnosed. Communication methods such as facial expressions, sign language, and vibration collars help hearing â€“impaired dogs to live fulfilling lives. Getting treatment for ear infections and monitoring loud noises around your pet can also help stem some hearing loss problems.
As always, check with your veterinarian if you suspect that your pet is suffering from hearing loss.