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Hearing Loss in Dogs 2020 [Causes + Solutions]

Your Complete Guide to Managing Their Hearing Loss:byron-edited

In this article, we’ll explore all the causes of hearing loss in dogs, from most common to least, ending with solutions for the best care.

Navigation:

Solutions to Restoration

 

What Dog Breeds are Most Prone to Deafness?

Both scientific studies and anecdotal evidence point to breeds with white pigmentation being the most likely to succumb to hearing loss. Here’s a chart from a study that the University of Louisiana did in 2018 to identify the dog breeds most prone to deafness:

Dog Breeds With Reported Congenital Deafness*
Akita Dalmatian Norwegian Dunkerhound
Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog/Otto Bulldog Dappled Dachshund Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
American Bulldog Doberman Pinscher Old English Sheepdog
American-Canadian Shepherd Dogo Argentino Papillon
American Eskimo English Bulldog Pekingese
American Hairless Terrier English Cocker Spaniel Perro de Carea Leones
American Staffordshire Terrier English Setter Pit Bull Terrier
Anatolian Shepherd Foxhound Pointer/English Pointer
Australian Cattle Dog Fox Terrier Presa Canario
Australian Kelpie French Bulldog Puli
Australian Shepherd German Shepherd Rhodesian Ridgeback
Australian Stumpy-tail Cattle Dog German Shorthaired Pointer Rat Terrier
Beagle Goldendoodle Rottweiler
Belgian Sheepdog/Groenendael Great Dane Saint Bernard
Belgian Tervuren Great Pyrenees Saluki
Bichon Frise Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Samoyed
Border Collie Greyhound Schnauzer
Borzoi Havanese Scottish Terrier
Boston Terrier Ibizan Hound Sealyham Terrier
Boxer Icelandic Sheepdog Shetland Sheepdog
Brittney Spaniel Italian Greyhound Shih Tzu
Bulldog Jack/Parson Russell Terrier Shropshire Terrier
Bullmastiff Japanese Chin Siberian Husky
Bull Terrier Kangal Shepherd Dog Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier
Canaan Dog Keeshond Springer Spaniel
Cardigan Welsh Corgi Kuvasz Sussex Spaniel
Catahoula Leopard Dog Labrador Retriever Tibetan Spaniel
Catalan Shepherd Lhasa Apso Tibetan Terrier
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Lowchen Toy Fox Terrier
Chihuahua Maltese Toy Poodle
Chinese Crested Manchester Terrier Walker American Foxhound
Chow Chow Miniature Pinscher West Highland White Terrier
Cocker Spaniel Miniature Poodle Whippet
Collie mongrel Yorkshire Terrier
Coton de Tulear Newfoundland Landseer

Congenital deafness means they are born with the defect, while acquired means it develops as they age, for whatever reason. In this article, we will focus on the causes and solutions for acquired deafness, since it is conditional and can often be treated/cured.

Why is My Dog Not Responding?

If you’ve noticed a change in their normal behavior––such as a lack of responsiveness to your calls or other household sounds––it could be hearing loss. Signs of hearing loss in dogs include:

  • Lack of response when calleddog music
      • (Dogs with hearing loss in only one ear might have trouble locating sound sources but will still respond).
  • Sleeping through noises that normally would wake them
  • Jumping at loud sounds (that were previously fine)
  • Excessive barking or unusual whining sounds

To test, try making a range of different sounds from different proximities. Call your dog from far away and note the response, try from the same room and see if they notice. Try high pitched sounds like clinking coins, and then lower sounds like deep bass vibrations. Snapping on either side of their ears can potentially pinpoint if it’s just one ear or both. If it’s just one ear, there’s a higher chance of acutely acquired hearing loss. This will all be really useful information for both you and your vet in identifying the problem.

However, there are a number of factors that can trigger hearing loss, so it’s important to pinpoint the right cause.  Here are all the possible causes of hearing loss in dogs:

 

Aging:

It’s extremely common for senior dogs to gradually lose their hearing, often until it’s completely diminished. Geriatric nerve degeneration in the cochlea is a natural process for dogs as young as 7-8 years of age. They often first begin to lose the middle to high pitch frequencies––think a whistle or a child’s squeal––with the rest of the frequencies following suit. Hearing loss in dogs can be accelerated if they live in louder environments. But don’t worry, some hearing loss is natural, it inevitably happens to all mammals (Read more on how to comfort your dog into old age). Unsurprisingly then, aging is the number one most common cause of acquired hearing loss in dogs.

Jump to: Solutions For Restoration

Jump to: Training Deaf Dogs

Exposure to a source of loud noise:

Sounds are measured in decibels (dB), and each 10 dB increase represents a tenfold increase in sound energy. 90 dB is ten times noisier than 80 dB, 100 dB is ten times noisier than 90, and so on. Sound researcher Joshua Leeds, co-author of Through a Dog’s Ear, the first book to examine the powerful effect of the human soundscape on dogs, states, “Above 85 dB, you start playing with auditory fire. Inside the inner ear, irreparable cilia cell damage worsens with length of exposure and higher decibel levels. Your dog’s inner ear works in exactly the same way yours does and has an even wider range of frequency.” If your dog’s inner ears have been exposed to sounds above 85 dB, there’s a chance those noises might have caused this lack of responsiveness and perhaps even ruptured the eardrum.

Decibels of Common Household and Street Sounds:

  1. Whisper: 30158844555
  2. Normal conversation: 40
  3. Dishwasher, microwave, furnace: 60
  4. Blow dryer: 70
  5. City traffic: 70
  6. Garbage disposal, vacuum cleaner: 80

 

Danger Zone Decibels:

  1. Lawn mower: 90
  2. Screaming child: 90
  3. Power drill: 110
  4. Ambulance: 130
  5. Gunshot: 130
  6. Fire engine siren: 140
  7. Boom cars: 145

Exposure to your rumbling garbage disposal is probably not responsible for their abrupt hearing loss, so vets often look to changes like recent home construction, a new baby, or perhaps just close living in a really busy neighborhood.

Jump to: Solutions for Restoration

Jump to: Training Deaf Dogs

Stuck Foreign Object:

This can be a problem for dogs of all shapes and ear sizes. Do what you can at home by gently lifting the ear and examining for anything suspicious in the inner canal. A flashlight and another set of hands for gentling the pup are definitely your friends.

    • Signs of a foreign body: redness or swelling in the canal, whining or pawing at the ear, visibly lodged item.

If your pup is calm and you can see something obviously stuck, attempt to carefully remove it with small tweezers. If you’re at all dubious about your ability, or the item is deep in the canal, best to bring them to the vet.

PRO TIP: If you live on the West Coast, foxtails are extremely common at the end of summer, and areas with this plant should be avoided at all costs. Once picked up by a dog’s fur, these evil burrs tunnel into the body through jostles in your pet’s movement. They can even enter through a paw! Watch out for this plant once dry and yellowed:

a field of foxtails: can cause hearing loss in dogs

Injury:

When doing research for this guide, I read many owner-submitted stories about their dog falling down the stairs and seeming fine, except for a sudden loss of hearing! Vets confirm it: head trauma of any kind can damage the temporal bone surrounding the ear canal, leading to loss of acute hearing in the ear drum. Have you seen anything like this happen to your pup? This one can be tough to pinpoint because it can happen while we’re gone, and there will be no signs it ever transpired.

 

Inflammation/Blockage:

Acquired deafness may be a temporary result of inflammation swelling the ear canal closed, or excessive ear wax filling up the channel. If you can see a lot of yellowy-gray wax, gently swab away with a Q-tip and solution. Don’t venture in too deep to the canal though; if it seems deep/systemic, bring your pup in for a vet visit. This problem will resolve quickly with careful attention.

The middle or inner canal can become inflamed for various reasons as well, and since its more difficult to see, the cause is challenging to identify. If you see signs of redness or inflammation deep in the ear, monitor and share with your vet.  

 

Harmful Drugs:

Has your dog had medications recently? Internally digested, or externally applied to the canal?

aminoglycoside antibiotics chart: cause of hearing loss in dogs

Some medication can destroy or damage the myelin sheath of the nerve cells, resulting in hearing loss.

Have they taken aminoglycoside antibiotics? (Scan this image for any of the TANGS and then check your prescription bottles). And make sure to ALWAYS check with your vet before doing any of your own medicating.

 

Tumors:

If your dog is not displaying any symptoms, had no falls, and is still quite young, there’s a slight chance their hearing loss could be related to tumorous polyp activity on the brainstem or surrounding the ear system. Tell your vet everything that’s going on so they can thoroughly diagnose the problem (To all you worry-warts: This is really unlikely, don’t worry. Thoroughly check for all the above common reasons before jumping to scarier conclusions 🙂

  • PRO TIP: Ask your vet to perform a BAER test (brainstem auditory evoked response) if you haven’t found the solution. This neurological test is very accurate in pinpointing location/cause.

 

Solutions:

Sanchez Smiling at Blufftops 

How Can I Protect My Dog’s Hearing?

It’s never too late to start protecting your dog’s hearing! For any age of dog, you can slow down the degenerative process of hearing loss by carefully tending to their sonic environment.

Take a sonic inventory:

Sound is like air. We rarely notice these two common elements unless the air suddenly becomes polluted or the sound becomes chaotic. The sonic inventory is one way of becoming aware of the noise in your pet’s environment and take measures to improve it. Spend a day in the shoes of a creature who can hear twice as well as you. While that may sound difficult, just remember that your average garbage disposal is about their max before the cochlea starts to get damaged. Are there factors you can limit their exposure to, like vacuuming or nearby construction?

SHAMELESS PLUG/PRO TIP: Sound masking may be a really effective strategy here. Create an isolated space away from the harmful, stressful sounds and play iCalmDog Reggae. We discovered the vibrations of the bass are really effective for masking damaging decibels from other sources.

dog with ear protection listening to iCalmDog Reggae

Don’t expose them to loud bands or loud street fairs.

Humans hear sounds between 20-20,000 Hz. Dogs hear at least twice as high, sometimes all the way up to 55,000 Hz. While it’s great that more events and public places are dog-friendly, so often those environments are created for humans. A fundraising party for dogs and their people that benefits your local shelter doesn’t benefit your dog when a loud band is playing.

Don’t play two sound sources simultaneously.

Remember that your dog’s hearing is much finer than yours. One family member may be in the living room blasting the TV, while another is in the kitchen listening to the radio. Your dog is caught in the middle, absorbing both sounds and getting stressed. Try and only have one sound source at a time, playing at a gentle volume.dog hearing range

Be aware of your dog’s unresolved sensory input.

When it comes to sound, dogs don’t always understand cause and effect. You know when people are in your home yelling at the TV during a sports game that it’s all in good fun. But, it may not be much fun for your dog, who is still trying to orient whether all of those crazy sounds are safe. Put your pup in a back quiet room, perhaps listening to music specially designed for dogs. This can not only safeguard his hearing, but also his behavior.

How to Train Deaf Dogs: 

  • Prepare Yourself: Aging is rarely graceful, and providing an upgraded level of care for your older dog can be both a frustrating and emotional process. Just be aware of this commitment going in (and remember the whole life of love and happiness that you’ve shared!!!).
      • Easy first step: An “I am deaf” tag attached to your dog’s collar helps remind others (and yourself!) that extra care and caution is necessary. Share the news with all your dog’s “contacts”, like vet, boarder, groomer, etc.

 

  • You Can Teach an Old Dog New Hand Signals: Most dogs already know a few hand signals from their trained life of being a pet. Consider what you’ll need your elderly dog to perform and create some signals together that correspond (Check out Lisa’s 10 tips). Fortunately, dogs are really good at understanding body language and most will take to this new language quite well.
      • Depending on your dog’s level of hearing loss, they might still be able to hear low-frequency vibrations like stomping on the floor. Try getting their attention with lights too, either a flashlight or turning on the room lights. You can train these methods to get their attention too. Work with whatever level your dog is at and your own preferences to develop communication.
        • Many owners recommend the use of a vibrating collar (NOT shock) to get the attention of a deaf dog. We like this one.

 

  • Avoid Surprises: Your old friend is losing much of the way he registers the world. Avoid surprises––that used to not be surprises––like petting from behind or waking from sleep. Always approach in his field of vision and make sure he sees you first. Others in your household or visiting family should know about this protocol too: the less shocks the better!
  • Deaf-Proof Your House: This isn’t as intensive as it sounds, but older dogs are often prone to the same dementia humans are, and can wander off without hearing your calls. If you haven’t already, you should definitely fence in your yard. And make sure your pup is on a leash when you leave the house, dogs that can’t hear often fail to respond to sounds in the environment that signal a collision or other hazards. Pay special attention when out in the world together.

 

  • Enrich Other Senses: Even as they lose one avenue of perception, you can strengthen another! The National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW™) is the official sanctioning and organizing body for the sport of K9 Nose Work. It is a growing popular sport, and it’s great for dogs of all ages. Dogs use their nose to search for their prize, engaging both the mind and olfactory senses. At home, you can make a game of hiding smell-rich treats (here’s a homemade recipe) in cardboard boxes throughout the house and let your dog search for them.
  • Hearing Aids for Dogs? After a lot of research, I found that only one laboratory was really making hearing aids fitted for dogs. The aids do not restore full hearing, cost $3-5k, involve an intensive re-training process, and have no guarantee. From my vantage point, they don’t seem worth it, but if you’re interested in more information, here is FETCHLAB.

And, finally, just be aware:

These suggestions are all to get you thinking about how your dog perceives the world and adjusting to their new level. Put yourself in their ears for a week and just notice. Follow your own intuition in developing your style of communication. And remember: give ’em lots and lots of lovins. Aging is never easy but dogs handle it all in stride.

Cheers to improving the lives of all!

 

Thanks for sharing any comments, stories, or feedback on this article below! We always love to hear from you 😉

 

 

 

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