Deafness in Pets

We all know that with growing age our bodies start to lose some biological functions we take for granted in our earlier years. One such example is the ability to hear. In humans, hearing loss is often associated with environmental exposure to loud sounds. Like us, pets can also suffer from hearing loss. There are many reasons for suspected hearing loss in dogs and cats ranging from genetic conditions, infections, nerve damage, and even cancer. In the following article, we will discuss some of the causes of hearing loss in pets.

Causes of Deafness in Dogs and Cats

Congenital

By about two weeks of age, the ear canals of puppies and kittens begin to open and they can begin to hear for the very first time. By about 8 weeks of age, the hearing mechanism matures. When a genetic abnormality results in incomplete development of these structures, deafness can result. Congenital deafness has been linked to certain breeds and coat colors of dogs and cats:

1) Dominant Merle or Dapple Genes of the Collie, Dachshund, Great Dane, and Shetland Sheepdog. It is important to note that Merle or Dapple does not refer to a specific color, but rather a coat pattern which is described as mottled or patchy in nature. Blue or odd-colored eyes are also a feature of Merle of Dapple Colored dogs.
(Radlinksy MC, Mason DE: Diseases of the Ear. Ettinger SJ, Feldman EC (eds): Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 6th ed. St. Louis, Elsevier Saunders 2005 pp. 1184-1185)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merle_(dog_coat)
2) Jack Russell Terriers with white coating
Famula TR; Cargill EJ; Strain GM: Heritability and complex segregation analysis of deafness in Jack Russell Terriers. BMC Vet Res 2007 Vol 3 (1) pp. 31.)
3) Dogs of any breed can be affected by deafness. For a complete list, follow this link to the Louisiana State Veterinary School’s website: https://www.lsu.edu/deafness/breeds.htm
4) Cats – An increase risk of deafness is associated with white-coated cats, and even more commonly in white-coated cats with blue irises.

Acquired Deafness
There are many reasons our pets may become deaf over time. Some of these causes include severe Ear Infections that affect the middle or inner ear, substances toxic to the ear canal, traumatic injury to the ear, and cancer. In some cases, a benign (not cancerous) growth or polyp inside of an ear may cause temporary hearing loss, although hearing may return once the tumor is removed. Also, foreign bodies inside the ear canal can cause temporary or permanent deafness.

Symptoms

As a pet owner, there are some physical symptoms that your pet may display if they are suffering from hearing loss. These include:

• Unresponsive to name/ everyday sounds
• Unresponsive to squeaky toys
• Being a loud sleeper
• Meowing or barking loudly
• Not hearing your footsteps when you come in close
• Puppies or kittens playing more aggressively (because they cannot hear their littermates cry if in pain)
• Formerly afraid of thunderstorms but no longer is so, as a dog or cat gets older

Diagnosis

Hearing loss itself is often not a life-threatening condition. However, it can lead to life-threatening scenarios, which is why it is important to bring him/her in for a physical examination. When you first come in for an appointment, one of our Veterinarians will ask for a brief history on when you started to notice the onset of symptoms followed by any possible causes you may have noted at home. Our veterinarians will then perform a complete physical examination, look inside your pet’s ears with an otoscope, and if an infection is suspected, get a sample from your pet’s ears for evaluation under a microscope. If an advanced infection is suspected, a culture and sensitivity may be recommended in order to find the correct antibiotics needed.

Congenital deafness, unfortunately, is irreversible, however, if our vet diagnosis the hearing damage due to an active ear infection or a growth in the ear, medications or surgical procedures can help resolve the deafness.

Fortunately, dogs and cats with hearing loss can still live wonderful, happy lives, albeit with a few restrictions. Dogs with hearing loss may be more reactive to other dogs or stimuli since they may not hear them approach without warning, if they come from the side.