How can you tell if a puppy has hearing issues or just isn’t responding to you? The key signs are not responding to any voice or loud noise, being startled when touched, and lack of movement in the ears. There’s a formal test called Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER) to confirm hearing loss or impairment.
It can be tough to tell if a puppy is deaf. Fortunately, there are a few signs you can look out for. In this post, we’ll discuss what to do if you suspect your pup is deaf and how to help them adjust. Keep reading for more information!
When Will I Notice First Signs of Hearing Issues in a Puppy?
Puppies come into the world blind and deaf. You won’t be able to even suspect a hearing issue until at least three weeks of age. That’s when the ear canals open with a hearing capacity four times better than human hearing.
There’s a caveat here. Puppies are with their litter non-stop for the next month or so. Even if a puppy is deaf, it will still follow the lead of its littermates most of the time. It’s not until you get some solo time with the puppy the real hearing challenges stick out.
A responsible breeder will have hearing tests done before the puppies are even considered to be up for sale.
Every dog owner knows the joy of returning home to a happy puppy waiting at the door or furiously wagging its tail (and entire body sometimes) in the crate. If your puppy does not do this or doesn’t respond to your voice, you might be dealing with a hearing issue.
Types of Deafness in Puppies
Hearing issues aren’t all-or-nothing. There are levels of hearing impairment. They might be hard of hearing in one year while the other ear operates just fine. They might have hearing challenges in both ears, but not be completely deaf. They might be deaf from birth with no hope of restoring their hearing. They might be born perfectly able to hear but suffer some kind of trauma that causes deafness.
This is why it’s important to get your veterinarian involved from the first suspicion of hearing issues. There’s a big difference between a puppy that is hard to train and a puppy that can’t hear your commands.
BAER Testing for Hearing Issues
You can suspect all you want, but until you get a BAER test done you won’t know for sure the challenges of the dog’s hearing and where the issue lies.
This is a painless test. Some dogs might need mild to moderate sedation just so they will sit still, but most times a dog can be wide awake for it.
The BAER test is done by wiring up the dog’s head with electrodes and inserting a foam earpiece. Sounds are sent through the foam earpiece and then a display of waveforms is produced. This tests the ear nerve and the brain stem. A puppy with hearing issues will have a flatter line of waveforms, while a dog with normal hearing will have a lot of peaks and valleys in the report.
This test is done on each ear individually.
What Causes Deafness in Puppies?
There are two types of hearing loss in puppies; hereditary and acquired.
A heredity issue impacts certain breeds of dogs. One of the benefits of getting a puppy from a breeder is that this kind of testing is normally done, which means the hereditary trait can be “bred out” of the dog lineage with careful planning.
An acquired issue might be due to toxic exposure or viral damage while the puppy was still in the womb.
What Breeds are Most Likely to Have Genetic Hearing Issues as a Puppy?
Before we give you this list, it’s important to note that not all dogs on this list will have hearing issues. We aren’t suggesting you don’t get these breeds. We are just letting you know the current list of dog breeds known to have a higher chance of hereditary hearing issues.
Merle and white dogs are more likely to have hearing issues. Merle is the speckled pattern of the hair on dogs and they can come with those rare, but dynamic eye colors like crystal blue.
Here are some of the top breeds predisposed to hearing issues according to the Merck Veterinary Manual.
- Bull Terrier
- Australian Heeler
- English Cocker Spaniel
- Parson Russell Terrier
- Boston Terrier
How common is this gene that causes deafness? A study done at LSU shows dalmatians have the highest rate of impact. Bilateral deafness, which means it impacts both ears, is present in 8% of all dalmatians in the United States. For unilateral deafness, meaning hearing loss impacting one ear, is at a 22% rate.
What Acquired Hearing Loss Issues Do Puppies Have?
Hearing loss, whether partial or complete, can be acquired through viruses or environmental factors.
- An ear infection, especially one left untreated, can impact the ear canal functions.
- Ototoxicity can happen when treatment for an ear infection reaches the inner ear. Drugs connected to this issue are commonly:
- Trauma to the head can damage the eardrum or cause blood to get into the ear canal.
- Foreign objects can get into the dog’s ear and block the eardrum or damage it.
- Earwax can build up and cause hearing impact.
- Loud, sudden noises like a gunshot within close range or excessively loud noise like at a concert or fireworks show
The good news is many of these acquired issues can be reversed and the hearing restored. It’s not guaranteed, but the sooner you get to a veterinarian when you notice hearing issues, the better chance your dog has of hearing again.
What Are the Challenges of Raising a Deaf Puppy?
A deaf puppy or dog doesn’t mean it’s not worth owning. There are simple steps to take to train deaf dogs. You also need to take a few different precautions with them when outdoors, but it’s not so exhaustive you wouldn’t be able to handle it.
“Deaf dogs can have a wonderful life,” Holly Newstead of the Deaf Dog Education Action Fund says. “They can do agility, obedience. They can be therapy dogs. They can do almost anything a hearing dog can do — there’s nothing wrong with them. They’re just a dog that can’t hear.”
First, make sure the tag on the dog has your name, phone number, and a disclosure that the dog is deaf.
Training a deaf puppy means using hand signals instead of verbal commands. That’s easy enough, right? The key, as with any dog training, is to be consistent. For example, one finger up in the air might mean “sit.” A flat hand pointing down might be “lay down.”
You never want to leave a deaf dog off-leash unless it’s a fenced area. They can’t hear and dangers approaching, like a speeding car.
A big concern with a deaf dog is that it can get easily startled, and any dog who’s startled can bite — deaf or not. It’s good practice when training to wake your dog up with a gentle touch and a treat. Do this repeatedly so they mentally know being startled isn’t a bad thing and it comes with a tasty snack.
When you want to get the dog’s attention, you could shuffle your feet nearby or do a light stomp on the ground so they feel the vibrations. You might notice a deaf dog staring at you constantly because it is so bonded to you. This is normal.
Hearing Loss Throughout a Dog’s Life
Presbycusis is hearing loss that can affect older dogs. It’s just part of aging and hearing degeneration. This can’t be reversed. If you’ve had the blessing of living with a senior dog, you’ve probably noticed they slowly start losing their hearing. The same training applies to these dogs as it does to a deaf puppy.
Listen To This Advice About Dog’s Senses
Too many deaf dogs end up being euthanized or dumped in shelters unnecessarily. We’ve shown how having a deaf dog doesn’t take away from the love and companionship they give. The dog’s strongest sense, by far, is the sense of smell. This is the main way they communicate. A dog without hearing can still live a full and happy life.