About a year or so ago, we started to notice our senior gal, a 13 year old husky, seemed to be losing her hearing. She’s always been stubborn, and selective hearing is (or was) one of her finest qualities, but this was more than that. Things like opening the treat drawer – which normally would have had her running from anywhere in the house – didn’t catch her notice anymore. And you could walk by her and sometimes she wouldn’t even notice.
And not only was she not hearing so well anymore, certain things that had never fazed her before become anxiety-inducing. Fireworks and thunder, once two events that didn’t cause her alarm, had her running for cover.
We finally admitted the truth – we needed to learn how to support our deaf dog. And I’m going to tell you how we do that. But first…
What Causes Deafness in Dogs?
As dogs age, they can suffer hearing loss just as humans do. Generally, this is a gradual process, so it may be difficult to notice. The eardrums become less flexible, and sounds are not transmitted as effectively. Some dogs are born deaf, which is known as congenital deafness. Other dogs can go deaf from a variety of causes, ranging from chronic ear infections or injuries to drug toxicity and old age.
How can you tell?
Well, as mentioned, for us it was subtle signs at first. If you start to notice your pet ignoring you more often than normal, or not running when you open the fridge or treat cupboard, you might want to test for hearing loss.
If you suspect your dog might be deaf, it’s easy to do a simple test. Pick a time when your dog is relaxing quietly, but not looking at you, and make a loud noise behind them. Make sure they can’t see your movement, or feel any vibrations, like you stomping on the floor. If they don’t react, you know that there is probably a good chance they’ve lost their hearing.
Also, try different ranges of sound. Our girl can sometimes pick up high-pitched sounds – every so often she hears my whistle when I call her younger sister in the yard. Blow a whistle for the high range, clap your hands loudly for mid-range, and hit a drum for low range. Many mostly-deaf dogs still have some limited hearing.
You can also watch for other signs. Some dogs who lose their hearing will become more anxious in certain situations – with fireworks or thunderstorms, for example. The vibrations without the noise may be alarming. (Over time, our gal has become accustomed to these events, and they no longer cause her distress.)
Ok, so you’ve determined you have a deaf dog. What’s next?
How to Support a Deaf Dog
First off – don’t worry! Most dogs adapt fairly well, and fairly quickly. It usually upsets us as pet parents far more than it does them. Get over that. A few lifestyle and environmental changes and you’ll be good to go!
- Training. Since a deaf dog can’t hear you, those verbal commands probably won’t do the trick anymore. Transition to hand signals – have a clear hand signal for each action you want your dog to learn. It doesn’t matter what they are, as long as you’re consistent. This really prompted us to use hand signals with our younger dog as well, just in case she loses her hearing in the future.
- Wake up! If your dog can’t hear you, waking them up suddenly can be disconcerting. Some dogs may be afraid if they can’t hear you approach, and if awoken out of a deep sleep. When waking up your hearing-impaired dog, go slow. We gently give our girl pets so we don’t startle her. You can also tap gently on the floor if your pet reacts to the vibrations.
- Change Your Approach. As with sleeping, approaching a deaf dog from behind may startle them, so try so approach in their line of sight. It’s important to tell others this as well (especially children).
- Identification. If you dog can’t hear, a collar identifying that is always a good idea. That way, just in case she gets out, the person who finds her, knows. It also helps with introductions.
- Of Leash? If your dog enjoyed off leash romps before losing her hearing, you may need to alter how you do things in the future. Recall with a deaf dog using hand signals only works if she’s looking at you – and often she won’t be. Your deaf dog cannot hear traffic or a honking automobile horn, so we really don’t recommend they be off leash on or near a street. They cannot hear to come when called, so it may be a good idea to do off leash only in contained areas. We moved from off leash to a long leash on forest hikes, just to be able to grab her in a hurry if needed, but leashed at all other times (unless the area is fenced). Be cautious, and use your best judgement. Often, for safety, off leash is not an option with a deaf dog.
- Anxiety? As mentioned, when our girl first lost her hearing we noticed that certain things caused her fear. We opted for natural anxiety relief to help prep her for things like storms and fireworks (CBD oil is our go-to). We set up a safe space that was enclosed to help her feel calm and protected. We also made sure to give her lots of love and reassurance when she was feeling nervous.
When a dog loses her hearing (or if she’s born deaf), don’t fret. She’ll adapt, and so will you. With a little extra care, a deaf dog can have the same quality of life she had before her hearing was gone. And of course, don’t forget all that love and attention they crave!
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