Sadly, many cases of deafness in dogs are preventable, but far too few dog owners are educated about them. We go to the vet and we're warned about heart worm and rabies… we're even told to brush their teeth to avoid related complications. We do our homework on picking a breeder. But vets rarely bring up some very simple things everyone should know, and breeders often keep certain aspects of their practices a secret from prospective buyers unless they specifically ask.
According to Denise Petryk, doctor of veterinary medicine and director of veterinary services at Trupanion, there are many potential causes of deafness in dogs.
Chronic ear infections: Ear infections can be caused by a multitude of things, including moist ear canals (like those found in dogs that swim or bathe frequently), allergens and even wax buildup. Deafness may be temporary, but in extreme cases, the hearing loss is permanent. Ask your vet to teach you to properly clean your dog's ears, and know the symptoms of an ear infection so you can take your dog to be treated.
Noise/ear trauma: A trauma — like that experienced with a head injury, puncture wound or even a very loud noise or frequent exposure to loud noise — can sometimes lead to deafness if parts of the ear are damaged. A careful and cognizant owner is likely already doing everything he or she can to prevent accidents that could cause this, but freak accidents do happen. But if your dog is in danger of being exposed to a loud noise or frequent loud noises (for example, a hunting dog), you can reduce its risk — yes, they make ear protection for hunting and swimming dogs.
Diseases: Some diseases can cause deafness or hearing loss to develop. For example, canine distemper can sometimes cause hearing loss, so it's important to get dogs vaccinated for any diseases they're at risk of contracting and take them to the vet if they're sick.
As with humans, some types of cancers or tumors can also cause deafness.
Old age: As with humans, elderly dogs may experience degenerative nerve damage. There is usually little that can be done to prevent this.
Drugs or toxins: Even drugs meant to help your dog, including antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, antiseptics and any medications that might reduce or remove excess fluid, can cause deafness. In these cases, deafness is usually a rare side effect or is only a risk when used incorrectly and pales in comparison to not administering the drug, so it's best to follow your vet's advice (and follow the drug's administration directions and schedule precisely). However, dogs can also lose their hearing due to exposure to heavy metals like mercury, lead and arsenic.
Heredity: Congenital deafness, or hereditary deafness, is the result of a dog inheriting certain genes from its parents. The single most common cause of congenital deafness is pigment related. Dogs with all or mostly white coats, or merle-coated (mottled) dogs with lots of white fur, may be susceptible to this depending on their breed. With this type of genetic deafness, the puppy is born deaf, so if you have an older white dog, it isn't at increased risk of pigment-related deafness (though it still may be at risk for other causes of deafness).
According to Christina Lee, founder of DeafDogsRock, an organization dedicated to homing deaf dogs and providing support to owners of deaf dogs, if your dog sleeps deeply and doesn't wake up to sudden noises or fails to respond to its name or other noises, that may be a sign it has total or partial hearing loss. She suggests testing it by waiting until it has fallen asleep and jingling your keys near it. Others suggest multiple options to test for ranges of sounds, which include blowing a whistle, clapping your hands or banging a drum.
Trupanion's Petryk says, "If you are concerned your pet may be deaf, the best option is to take them to a veterinarian for a BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) test, which will allow you to find out the extent of the hearing loss."
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