Not only humans are affected by deafness; dogs are also. Hearing is important for dogs for their own social interaction, and to make them more enjoyable companions. It is also vital for working dogs to hear well so they can do their various jobs effectively. Dogs who are deaf in one ear have difficulty localizing sound, which may affect their performance as a watch dog, bird dog, or sheepdog.
Hearing loss in dogs is far more widespread than veterinarians used to believe and is much more common than the general public realizes. In early studies, before canine hearing evaluation was so advanced, it was thought that one in 3,000 puppies had congenital deafness. However, with the increased sophistication of audiological evaluation techniques, such as auditory brainstem response (ABR), we now know that the true incidence is much higher. Hearing can be assessed on dogs rather easily these days with the use of ABR and sedation so it is much easier to assess these animals to determine the extent of their hearing impairment. In the old days, one conducted visual reinforcement audiometry or VRA and play audiometry with the animals to assess their hearing, and assessment was more subjective, which led to errors in the evaluation process. Thanks to evoked potential evaluations we have a better picture as to the true nature of canine hearing loss.
It is quite well known that Dalmatians have a line that is congenitally deaf, but it’s less known that there are many deaf dogs of different breeds. Stain (1999) states that 80 dog breeds and ten breeds of cats have reported congenital deafness. Strain further presents that dog breeds with the highest incidence include the Dalmatian (22% in the U.K.); English Setters (14.3%), Border Collies (10%), Australian Cattle dogs (12.6%) Cocker Spaniels (6.8%), and White Bull Terriers (19.1%)
The genetic predisposition for deafness is a serious health problem for Dalmatians. Early breeders did not recognize their deafness, so the breed was thought to be unintelligent. Even after recognizing the problem as a genetic fault, breeders did not understand the dogs’ nature and, thus, deafness in Dalmatians continues to be a frequent problem. While approximately 70% of Dalmatians are born with normal hearing, some of these puppies will become deaf after a few weeks (Mair 1972; Johnsson et al. 1973). The disease that creates the deafness may affect one or both ears. The dogs with normal hearing in one ear are likely to be able to live a normal life. But, as in humans, those animals that are deaf in both ears are significantly handicapped. In the UK study, by Wood & Lakhani (1997), which evaluated 4,500 Dalmatians, 21% had congenital hearing loss. Of these, approximately two-thirds were deaf in one ear (unilateral) and one-third were deaf in both ears (bilateral). It has also been established that Dalmatians with blue eyes are more likely to be deaf.
While deafness appears to be most prevalent among Dalmatians, other breeds of dog also have issues with their hearing. Researchers have discovered that deafness in albino and piebald animals is caused by the absence of mature melanocytes in the inner ear, which may affect one or both ears. The condition is also common in other canine breeds that share a genetic propensity for light pigmentation. These include, but are not limited to Bull Terriers, Dogo Argentinos, Poodles, Boxers, Border Collies and Great Danes. The chart by Strain (1999) provides an indication of the incidence of deafness in various breeds where it is common, but it does not have sufficient subject data to present these percentages as conclusive evidence of the frequency of deafness in these breeds.
How To Tell If Your Dog May Be Deaf
The following are general signs that a dog may be deaf or suffering some form of hearing loss:
- The dog does not know if you’re in the room until you physically touch them or they see you.
- The dog turns the wrong way when you call them.
- No response to outside stimuli, such as doorbell ringing or other dogs barking.
- Head shaking
- No response or confusing to familiar commands.
- Excessive barking.
- Pawing of the ears or evidence of itchy or painful ears.
- Smelly discharge from the ears.
In the US and some other countries, there are deaf dog rescue groups that find homes for these special needs pets, such as Deaf Dogs Rock and others that are committed to working with these animals. In their opinion, deaf dogs make amazing pets. They are not harder to train, just different and will make you a better owner. If you do not believe that, check out Angeline, a deaf dog that has moves! Click on Angeline’s picture (left) for an amazing video of a deaf dog that performs.
Update May 15, 2017..Here you can find more information about the Border Collie dog breed.
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (2015). Deafness. Retrieved April 29, 2015: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/deafness
Cox, C., (2011). Hearing assessment in dogs and cats. Dechra Putting You First. Retrieved April 29, 2015: http://www.dechra-us.com/Articles/technical-bulletins/Ears.aspx?PID=17797&Action=1&NewsId=718¤tPage=2
Johnsson, LG, Hawkins JE Jr, Muraski AA. (1973). Vascular anatomy and pathology of the cochlea in Dalmatian dogs. In: de Lorenzo, AJD (ed): Vascular Disorders and Hearing Defects. Baltimore: University Park Press, p 249: Retrieved April 28, 2015: http://www.lsu.edu/deafness/VetClinNA.htm
Mair, IWS (1972). Hereditary deafness in the Dalmatian dog. European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology 203: 1-15: Retrieved April 28, 2015: https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=mair%20iws%20(1972)%20hereditary%20deafness%20in%20the%20dalmatian%20dog.%20european%20archives%20of%20oto-rhino-laryngology%20203%3a%201-15
Wood, J., & Lahani, K. (1997). Prevalence and prevention of deafness in the Dalmatian – assessing the effect of parental hearing status and gender using ordinary logistic and generalized random litter effect models. The Veterinary Journal 154:121-133. Retrieved April 29, 2015: http://www.lsu.edu/deafness/BiblioDog.htm
Angeline, the Deaf Dog, Retrieved April 29, 2015: https://youtu.be/X1-ldI246NA
I’ve worked with and trained hunting dogs for many years, never once thought about a dog with hearing problems. Fascinating story. The other side of this story would be of interest. How much better can they hear than a human?
I’ve been hunting with my dogs, on a windless day when they go on point. They can’t possibly smell a bird or see them, but they hear them moving in the grass or cover. True story!