Here at Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre we do get to see some deaf pets, and it isn’t as uncommon a condition as you would perhaps think. I thought the blog would be a perfect opportunity to offer some practical advice; as always though, if you want to talk to a member of our team just give us a call.
A surprising amount of dog breeds (over 85, actually!) have a susceptibility to deafness in their genetics – approximately 30% of Dalmatian puppies have congenital deafness i.e. they’re born with it. The definitive test for deafness is called the B.A.E.R – Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response – test. This measures electrical activity in the brain in response to auditory (sound/noise) stimuli.
Some cats and dogs experience partial or total hearing loss simply as part of the ageing process, the same as sometimes happens with humans. I know some of you will now be wondering about your dogs seeming hearing loss, thinking “Fido didn’t respond when I called him in the park yesterday”. Chances are, it’s a classic case of selective hearing; you know, when they want to explore just a bit longer, but it’s time to head home.
Everyone gets ignored by their pet from time to time – it even happens to me! And don’t think it’s just hearing animals that do this – deaf animals will ignore you too, especially if they’re out and about having fun. They will look at you and blatantly ignore your hand signals, whether they’ve been trained in “sign language” or not. Cheeky, eh?!
Some common signs of hearing loss are prolonged barking, difficulty waking up, inability/confusion when following your usual vocal commands, and a change in their level of obedience and/or inattention. Your pets’ personality can sometimes change noticeably too; they’re probably scared and confused by what’s happening, and they may be snappy or withdrawn as a result.
Other signs to be aware of are pain in the ears, or a smelly discharge coming from them, and also repeated head shaking or a tilt towards one side. I know I always say it, but please don’t hesitate to call the SLVC team if you are at all concerned about your pet.
If it turns out that your fur-baby does have partial or total hearing loss, then don’t despair; it’s not a doom-and-gloom scenario, far from it. Animals have no Ego, so they really won’t give a flying wottsit about not hearing; as long as you love them and they have a sense of belonging, that’s all they want.
It’s only one sense out of five that is absent or diminished, and the others learn to compensate. Cats and dogs have terrific senses of smell anyway – but it may gain super-hero capabilities when it comes to treats or food! You may notice that your pet will become more sensitive to vibrations, so that game of you sneaking up behind them might not be so much in your favour anymore!
Keeping a deaf or hearing-impaired pet safe requires a little more thought, effort, and planning – but it’s relatively easy to do. Firstly, on their I.D tag, make it clear that “Fido/Kitty is deaf”, as well as displaying the usual details. When you want to get their attention, using a torch or pen-light has been proven to be an effective method.
A lot of folks keep their dogs leashed when out walking, and in built-up or busy areas this is really important; potential hazards such as bikes and cars might not be heard. For outdoor cats, or dogs off-leash in rural areas, a bell on their collar will help make locating them easier. Remember, they won’t hear you calling their name, but their movement and sound of the bell will be heard by you.
Something else to consider is when you need to leave your beloved pet alone at home. Normally, we just shout “bye-bye” to them, but imagine if they were sleeping or in another room when we left. They would be quite distressed and bewildered when they discovered you’d just gone – not a nice feeling for them.
Speaking of bewilderment, don’t wake a deaf pet from their slumber by touch; this will startle them and they might scratch or bite. It’s important that children are taught not to wake them this way. Remember I mentioned your cat or dogs sense of smell earlier? Well, wafting a tempting treat under their nose will wake them from their repose in a pleasant, effective way 🙂
The final thing to consider is that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks, especially when it comes to using hand signals as commands. Keep things simple at first; commands such as “come, stay, sit, and down” need to be taught as soon as possible – and devise a signal for their name too.
For those of you out there thinking of getting a “pre-loved” fur baby from a rescue centre, why not consider giving a second chance to a deaf one? Life with a deaf or hearing-impaired pet is certainly going to be challenging at first (it would be anyway, even with a hearing pet), but it’s also going to be fun and rewarding too!
Until next time; stay safe, stay well, and be happy 🙂