How can I test my dog’s hearing?
Some dogs are born deaf, while others develop hearing problems later in life. It is estimated that about 5 to 10 percent of dogs in the United States suffer from deafness, either in one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral). The number can be quite significant considering the number of dogs kept as pets in the US. To increase awareness and knowledge among pet owners, Deaf Dog Awareness Week is observed every year during the last week of September. If you’re worried that your dog might be hearing impaired, keep reading to learn how to put their ears to the test.
Causes of Deafness in Dogs
Congenital deafness is inherited. Its origin can either be:
Cochleosaccular Deafness - This is the most common cause of congenital deafness in dogs and is linked with hair coat color patterns. Dogs with piebald color genes or merle color genes have higher risks of developing deafness in one or both ears. It’s also often diagnosed in dogs with blue eyes and white hair coats. Cochleosaccular deafness is commonly diagnosed in puppies between 1-3 weeks old.
Neuroepithelial Deafness - This type of congenital deafness occurs in newborn puppies regardless of coat patterns. Both ears are usually affected and are typically detected at the same age as cochleosaccular deafness.
Acquired deafness may occur in one ear (partial hearing loss), or both. Acquired deafness can be a result of a variety of factors:
Some cases may be temporary, such as when the ear canal is blocked by wax or pus buildup or from the presence of benign tumors. But it could also be permanent. Damage caused by some medications, trauma or injury, tumors in the brainstem, or loud noises (such as gunfire near the ears) are just some of the most common causes of permanent ear damage.
Deafness may also be an age-related issue in senior dogs brought about by the degeneration of the cochlea.
Signs Your Dog Might Be Going Deaf
1. Your Dog Fails to Come When Called
The inability to hear commands is often the first red flag that pet parents notice when their dog has hearing problems. It’s often the high-pitched sounds that hearing-impaired dogs fail to respond to at first. So, if your dog used to come running when you whistle, pour kibble into his food bowl, or when someone knocks on the door, and suddenly fails to do so, you should perform certain tests at home to check your dog’s hearing.
2. Your Dog Displays New Behavioral Problems
Dog owners may confuse their pet’s hearing issues with behavioral problems. If your well-behaved and easy-to-control dog suddenly stops responding to voice commands, you might think that it’s a form of canine revolt, more so when the behavior occurs together with incontinence in a senior dog. Before being frustrated with your pet’s behaviors, it’s a good idea to do some at-home tests to determine if your canine buddy has trouble hearing.
3. Your Dog Startles Easily
When dogs develop a hearing problem, they start to rely on their fully functional senses that have gone into overdrive to compensate for partial or permanent hearing loss. When this shift happens, hearing-impaired dogs tend to be easily startled by an unexpected touch or the vibration on the floor made by someone walking nearby. Without their sense of hearing, these stimuli can be pretty scary for a deaf dog that is sleeping. Losing the ability to rely on their sense of hearing can certainly lead to a noticeable increase in a dog’s startle reflex.
4. Your Dog Barks Excessively
Just like people, dogs regulate their vocalization with the aid of their sense of hearing. With hearing problems, a dog won’t know how loud they are barking. Thus, they tend to start barking excessively.
5. Your Dog Spends More Time Sleeping
As dogs lose their sense of hearing, they tend to sleep more. This means they are unable to interact as much with other members of the pack, humans and other pets alike. Some pet owners might think that their dog is experiencing the blues or may be ill.
Ways to Test Your Dog’s Hearing
If you suspect that your dog has a hearing problem, there are tests you can try at home before seeking professional help from your vet.
First, test to see if your dog responds to a variety of sounds, such as whistling, clapping, knocking on the door, calling his name, etc. while he is not facing you. An absence or lack of response to any of these sound stimuli can indicate that your pet might be losing his sense of hearing.
If your dog is exhibiting any of the above symptoms and he fails to respond to the sound stimuli test that you did at home, it’s time to seek veterinary attention.
How will the vet check my dog’s hearing?
Your dog will undergo a complete physical exam. The ear canal will be examined for any abnormalities, including the buildup of wax or debris, signs of infection, inflammation, or injury.
Your vet may also test your dog’s hearing by stepping quietly behind your dog and clapping loudly to see if there is any response.
Certain veterinary specialists can perform the Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER) Test. This is the most reliable method for determining deafness in dogs. The test was first used in infants and is now being used to evaluate hearing in dogs.
The BAER test involves checking the response of the brain to clicking sounds. Aside from confirming that the dog is deaf, the test can also determine the extent of the impairment. However, the BAER test does not measure the full range of a dog's hearing, it only checks noises in the normal human range (some dogs will test as ‘deaf’ but can still hear very high-pitched noises).
Why You Should Get Your Dog’s Hearing Tested
For dog breeders, testing the breeding stock for deafness before they’re bred allows a better understanding of the type of genes that the sire or dam may pass on to his/her offspring. While testing helps avoid producing puppies that are hearing-impaired, the BAER test does not completely ensure the hearing of the resulting puppies.
For dog owners, knowing that their pets are partially or totally deaf will make it easier for them to address their deaf dog’s needs, such as developing appropriate communication and training techniques (use of hand signals or exaggerated body language). Necessary precautions can also be made to protect deaf dogs from potential dangers, such as vehicles and predators. The awareness and understanding of pet parents regarding their dog’s condition are very important so measures can be taken to ensure the dog will live a happy and healthy life.
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