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Causes of Deafness in Dogs

What Can Affect Your Dog's Hearing

By January 24, 2014 | See Comments

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    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian

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A Hound With Large Ears

How can you protect your dog from hearing loss? The first step is to understand the leading causes of deafness in canines.

Dogs have a well-deserved reputation for keen hearing that can pick up tones undetectable by the human ear. Unfortunately, not every canine has that gift. Hearing loss or total deafness affects many dogs for different reasons. If you’re a dog parent (or considering becoming one) it’s good to understand the following factors that can impact your pet’s hearing.

Genetic Causes of Deafness in Dogs

Incidents of congenital deafness, or deafness at birth, have been reported in nearly 100 different breeds of dogs. Dogs with white fur in their coats and those with spotted or patched coats (called piebald or merle dogs) have the highest risk of being born with genetic hearing loss. Whether or not these dogs are deaf depends on whether they lack colored, or pigmented, cells in their ears.

Among those most at risk are Dalmatians; overall, about 30% of Dalmatians are born deaf in either one or both ears. Other breeds with high rates of congenital deafness include English Setters, Catahoula Leopard Dogs, Australian Cattle Dogs, English Cocker Spaniels, Jack Russell Terriers, and Bull Terriers.

Other Causes of Permanent Hearing Loss

As dogs age, they may suffer gradual hearing loss due to changes that occur within the ear or nervous system over time. These changes are most likely to start around 10 years of age. Your dog will probably not become totally deaf and, in fact, may continue to be able to hear high-pitched sounds, but there can be significant hearing loss. This gradual loss of hearing can result in behavioral changes such as becoming less active.
Injuries to the ear from trauma or exposure to loud noises can also cause irreversible deafness in dogs. Hunting dogs, for instance, who are repeatedly exposed to loud gun blasts are at significant risk.

Causes of Temporary Hearing Loss

Ear infections can interfere with your pet’s sense of hearing and need to be treated right away to prevent any long-lasting damage. The cause of the ear infection can affect how quickly a serious problem and possible deafness occur. The most common cause of infection is an infestation of ear mites, parasites that breed in the ear and create a waxy discharge as they feed on your pet. This waxy discharge can lead to blockages that cause deafness. Ear mites, thankfully, can be eradicated with proper treatment, which may include drops, oral medication, or topical treatments.

Other issues that can cause blockages are cuts inside the ear that become infected, a buildup of hair or skin cells, or fungus or yeast infections (although these are less common in dogs than cats). Regularly checking your dog’s ears can help you spot blockages or signs of inflammation early so that you can nip any problems in the bud before they progress to the point of causing hearing loss. Regular vet visits are also important so your vet can properly clean your dog’s ears.

Cancer and Deafness

Dogs can develop tumors in their ears, and these can impact your pet’s hearing. Polyps or tumors should be surgically removed even if they are benign. Once the tumors are removed, your dog’s hearing should return to normal, but you’ll need to talk to your vet about any ongoing treatment or follow ups to discuss any needed treatments for cancerous growths.

More on Hearing Loss

Symptoms of Ear Infections in Dogs and Cats
Dog Dementia: How it Affects Aging Dogs
10 Must-Ask Questions to Ask at Senior Dog Vet Visits

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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Causes of Deafness at a glance

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  • 1Hereditary deafness is most likely to affect dogs who have white or spotted coats such as Dalmatians.
  • 2Ear infections are a common reason for temporary deafness, which can be treated with medication.
  • 3Check your dog’s ears regularly for signs of inflammation.
  • 4Have your vet regularly clean your dog’s ears.
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