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There was a time when dog’s ears came in only one size and shape just like those of their wolf ancestors.
This natural ear shape has a flap or pinna that is erect and highly mobile, well-insulated with hair on the outside and very smooth on the inside.
When we began to breed dogs to suit both our practical purposes and aesthetic preferences, we created the fantastic variety of ear shapes and sizes that dogs have today.
The most obvious changes made by breeding are those that have affected the shape or size of the ear.
In changing the design of the dog’s ear, however, we have increased the risks and the incidence of ear problems.
Ear problems are among the most common reasons why dog parents visit vets. Common issues include hearing issues and deafness.
A dog’s hearing is remarkable. While some dog’s ears are better tuned than others, most dogs can hear a sound four times farther away than humans.
They can detect and locate the source of the sound in six-hundredths of a second. Dogs can also distinguish sounds that are particular to their owner from the multitude of sounds all around them – often from the depths of sleep.
Dog Hearing Loss
Deafness refers to either the lack or loss of the ability to hear. It can be complete or partial. It can also be unilateral if it affects only one ear or bilateral if it affects both ears.
Deafness is particularly disturbing for a dog and its owner because it eliminates an important form of communication between people and dogs. However, with effective training, deaf dogs can easily learn to understand and respond to sign language.
Dogs can be either born deaf or lose their hearing as a result of a plethora of causes. Therefore deafness can be divided into congenital and acquired.
Deafness existing from birth is caused early in fetal development when the sound receptor cells in the ear fail to form properly. All pups are born deaf, but should gain hearing within two weeks.
Unfortunately, some puppies never develop hearing ability. Breeders and owners are usually unaware of this issue until training sessions begin.
Recently it has been shown that a link exists between congenital deafness and the genes for the color of the dog’s coat. This suggests that some breeds are more prone to deafness than other. Accordingly, over 30 breeds of dog are at risk from congenital deafness in one or both ears.
Predominantly white dogs and dogs with merle coats are particularly prone. Genetic evidence suggests that this form of deafness is associated with the color of the coat and is linked with either the merle or the piebald gene.
Breeds with the merle gene include:
- Shetland Sheepdogs
- American Foxhounds
- Old English Sheepdogs
- Norwegian Dunkers
Dog breeds with the piebald gene:
- Bull Terriers
- English Setters
- Sealyham Terriers
- Great Pyrenees.
Most causes for deafness in dogs can be prevented, but sadly the majority of dog owners lack the appropriate education.
Many vets and other pet related websites warn about certain popular conditions among dogs while neglecting to pay attention to the reasons that lead to deafness.
The most common reasons for acquired deafness are:
Ear infections – Dogs can lose their hearing as a result of chronic infections of the middle and inner ear that cause tissue damage. The most common cause for ear infection is moist ear canal.
Learn how to properly take care of your dog’s ears and prevent such issues. If you cannot maintain your dog’s ears, learn the signs of ear infection, s you can take your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
Drugs and toxins – Deafness may be a consequence of a drug’s toxicity. Antibiotics such as neomycin sulfate and gentamicin that are used to treat ear infections can damage the hearing nerves.
Other deafness-causing drugs include antiseptics and chemotherapy drugs. Dogs can also lose their hearing due to exposure to heavy metals like lead, arsenic, and mercury.
Diseases – Certain diseases can cause partial hearing loss or even complete deafness. For example, the canine distemper leads to impaired hearing ability.
Traumas – Traumas like head injuries, puncture wounds and even loud noises or frequent exposures to loud noises can damage the ear drum and cause deafness.
Tumors – Less commonly, as with humans, some types of tumors in the inner ear or brain, may cause deafness by pressuring and damaging the auditory apparatus or nerve.
Hormonal disorders – Hypothyroidism induces abnormal nerve function which also impacts the auditory nerve.
Wax build-up – Accumulating too much wax within the ear may lead to temporary deafness. Basically, any condition that reduces the diameter of the ear canal or blocks the normal movement of sound to the eardrum leads to some degree of impaired hearing.
Geriatric deafness – Deafness resulting from old age is physiological and quite common. It is a gradual process that starts around ten years of age.
Dog Hearing Loss Treatment
Sadly, there is no realistic treatment for deafness in dogs, especially in cases of congenital deafness.
Dogs suffering from temporary hearing loss provoked by ear infections, tumors or build-up of wax can be treated by medically or surgically removing the causative agent.
Even in these cases the treatment is not 100% successful and it depends on the severity of the already caused damage.
All in all, in most cases, deafness is irreversible and permanent. Some highly specialized veterinary hospitals offer customized hearing aids for disabled dogs, but these are not only extremely expensive but inefficient for most causes of canine deafness too.
Most deaf dogs live happy and fulfilling lives. You just need to put some extra effort into keeping them safe. For example, always keep your deaf dog on its leash.
With patience and using treats with strong odors, give flamboyant but straightforward hand signals to train your dog to come, sit, stay and lay down.
A deaf dog’s other senses usually become more acute.
You can use floor vibrations or a flashing light to get its attention. The most natural way for a deaf dog to cope with its disability is by having a hearing companion. Your deaf dog understands what is happening by watching the body language of its buddy.
It is essential to understand that deafness is not something you can visualize on the outside.
Deaf dogs have no apparent physical defects. Besides the fact that they have a justified excuse for not obeying their owners, deaf dogs are pretty normal.
Therefore understanding deafness in dogs, as well as learning how to recognize its early signs is of paramount importance.
Preventing the causes that may lead to deafness and taking your dog to the vet as soon as you notice something abnormal are the best ways to help your fur baby.