Deaf Dog Awareness Week takes place during the last week of September every year. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. dogs are either completely deaf or partially deaf, and rates of deafness vary significantly by breed. Dalmatians, for example, are several times more likely to go deaf than other dogs!
Since most cases of dog deafness are gradual, not congenital, how can you be sure your dog isn’t going deaf? Dogs with hearing issues can usually benefit from special accommodations from their owners. Here are five signs your dog might be going deaf.
1. Not Coming When Called
The most common sign of deafness in dogs is an inability to hear commands. Deafness often starts with an inability to hear high-pitched sounds, so a dog who usually comes to a whistle command might stop doing so. If you’ve noticed your dog paying less attention when you call his name, he might be losing his ability to hear. Test to see if your dog responds to a variety of sounds – clapping, whistling, clicking – while facing away from you. If there’s no response, he might be losing his hearing.
2. Sudden Disobedience
It’s very easy for dog owners to confuse creeping deafness with behavioral problems. A dog who has always been well behaved and easy to control might suddenly stop responding to commands, for example, or require more focus to bring to attention. Since deafness most often affects senior dogs, these newfound listening issues can feel like a full-fledged doggy revolt when paired with incontinence, another common malady that comes with age. Before becoming frustrated that your dog no longer obeys commands, do a few at-home tests to determine whether or not he may just be having trouble hearing the commands in the first place. There are easy ways around age-related hearing problems, like more visual cues and hand signals.
3. Increased Startle Reflex
Dogs who can’t hear well learn to rely on their other senses. A deaf dog’s sense of touch, for example, will become heightened. When this shift occurs, dogs become more likely to be startled by an unexpected touch, a strong gust of wind, or even the shocking vibration of a footstep nearby. Without the aid of a sense of hearing, these stimuli can feel overwhelming and even scary, particularly if a dog is sleeping. A dog who startles more readily than ever before might simply be losing his ability to rely on auditory cues.
4. Excessive Barking
Have you ever spent time with someone who can’t hear very well and they keep turning the TV volume up and Up and UP?! That’s what it’s like to have a dog with hearing loss. All animals regulate their own voices using their sense of hearing. Without auditory cues, how can they know how loud they’re being? On top of gradually raising their own voices in response to hearing loss, some dogs assume that if they can’t hear you, you can’t hear them! Barking more often is a natural response as they navigate their new methods of communication.
5. Behavioral Apathy and/or Increased Sleep
For some dogs, the most natural response to hearing loss is to sleep more, withdraw from social interaction, and become more passive in nature. While these behaviors might lead you to wonder whether your dog is sad, they could just be your dog’s new, more cautious way of being. Particularly during the beginning stages of hearing loss, dogs who feel a bit overwhelmed by the unexpected sensations (and lack thereof) that come with deafness may cope best by internalizing. This shift often goes hand-in-hand with other common symptoms of old age. Talk to your vet about the best ways you can support your dog as he adjusts to his new normal.
Is deafness in dogs permanent? Not always! Some hearing issues are caused by treatable conditions like a persistent ear infection. If you notice your dog is having trouble hearing make an appointment with your vet immediately for a thorough evaluation and to discuss your treatment options.