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Hearing loss in dogs refers to the lack of or gradual loss of their ability to hear and can be a partial or complete loss. If the dog has been deaf since birth, referred to as “congenital”, it will obviously be apparent to you from a young age. There are approximately 30 dog breeds that are known for being susceptible to deafness, including Boxton terriers, Australian shepherds, Dalmatian, Cocker Spaniels, Maltese, Miniature and Toy Poodles, and Jack Russell Terriers. Hearing loss is most common with senior dogs.
Unresponsive to everyday sounds, sleeps through loud noises, unresponsive to the calling of their name or the sounds of squeaky toys.
A complete history of the dog, including any drugs that may have damaged the ear or caused a chronic ear disease, is completed by the veterinarian. Early age onset usually suggests birth defects (congenital causes) in predisposed breeds. On the other hand, brain disease is a slow progressive disease of the cerebral cortex, usually caused by senility or cancer — making the brain not able to register what the ear can hear. Bacterial cultures and hearing tests, as well as sensitivity testing of the ear canal, may also used to diagnose the underlying condition.
NOTE: Conduction deafness can be corrected if the cause, such as wax accumulation or infection, can be eliminated. Cleaning the ears should be done with care to prevent damage to the eardrum. Only well-trained and knowledgeable people should use cotton-tipped applicators such as Q-tips to clean the ears. Caution should be used. Dogs with severely dirty ears may need to be cleaned under anesthesia by a veterinarian.
Unfortunately, any deafness present in the dog at birth (congenital) is irreversible. If it is caused by an inflammation of the outer, middle, or inner ear, medical or surgical approaches may be used. These two methods, however, are dependent on extent of disease, bacterial cultures, sensitivity test results and X-ray findings. Conduction problems, in which sound waves do not reach the nerves of hearing, may improve as inflammation of the outer or middle ear are resolved. Hearing aids can also sometimes be used for dogs.
If you are not interested in hearing aids for your dog, the good news is that dogs do not ‘suffer’ from hearing loss the way people do for a multitude of reasons. For one, when hearing loss comes on slowly, dogs adapt. And part of the reason why they can adapt to their loss of hearing is because dogs rely more heavily on their sense of smell than on their ability to hear. (That’s why they smell other dogs when they meet them, and that’s why we can use them to locate everything from missing children to hidden drugs to a urine sample from a patient with bladder cancer.) Hearing for them is a lesser sense. So even with diminished hearing, your dog can still enjoy a happy life.