Dalmatian on a leash

Nothing ever gets a good dog down. As a veterinarian, I’ve seen it time and time again: dogs with handicaps find a way to not only cope but to live joyously. How others see them doesn’t matter. They find their way and live each day with joy that is infectious. When we care, they share.

Amazing the lessons we can learn from our dogs, don’t you think?

I’ve met some dogs coping incredibly well with all kinds of handicaps, including Faith, the dog who was born without her front legs. Faith is an inspiration to people — and pet owners — around the world. But more commonly, I see pet owners wondering how they can help their dogs cope with more common conditions, such as deafness. I love to reassure them that their dogs can and will do just fine with their help.

Deafness Comes in Different Ways

This condition can be broken down into three categories:

  • Congenital. Although any dog (like any person) can be born deaf, congenital deafness is most common in dogs with white, piebald or merle markings, notably in breeds such as the Dalmatian. While it was once common practice for dogs who were born deaf in both ears to be euthanized, that’s no longer the case thanks to people who have shown that deaf dogs can be raised and trained to be good family pets.
  • Illness or injury. Loud noises or other injury to the ear can cause deafness, as can some medications. Chronic, severe ear infections can damage hearing as well. In some cases temporary hearing loss can be treated with medication or the “tincture of time” to restore full function.
  • Old age. In aging dogs, as in aging people, gradual hearing loss is common. In many cases people will not notice a dog’s hearing loss until it’s severe. That’s often because dogs are very keyed in to us and can adjust to this change, observing body language and using other senses to keep up with normal household activities.

No matter what kind of deafness your dog has — or you suspect he has — discuss it with your veterinarian to see if any treatment can help. Dogs with wax plugs, foreign bodies in the ear canal, or infections may be able to return to full functionality with proper treatment. For dogs with inherited deafness (such as in Dalmatians), spay-neuter is a must. If you end up with a deaf puppy or dog, and after consultation with your vet don’t feel up to the task of caring for him, find a rescue group that specializes in deaf dogs. There are homes out there for many otherwise healthy, happy deaf dogs.

Helping Your Deaf Dog

Dogs who can't hear in just one ear need only a little in the way of extra help. For dogs with little to no hearing at all, a few simple tips:

  • Don't let a deaf dog roam. A leash and a secure fence is a deaf dog’s best friend. Off-leash recreation isn’t a good idea for these dogs, who can’t hear a car approaching or come to you when called. Some owners of deaf dogs have fashioned vibrating collars to cue dogs to look for hand signals, and with a simple Internet search, you can find information on these and on training deaf dogs.
  • Be sure your dog has ID, both a tag and a microchip, in case he wanders off. It’s also a good idea to have the tag say, “I’m deaf!”
  • Never startle a deaf dog, especially when he’s sleeping. A hard stomp that sends vibrations through the floorboard may be enough to wake your dog, or you may need to touch him gently on his body.

Deafness never stopped a good dog from having a good life, so don’t waste a second feeling sorry for your dog. Whether he was born deaf or became that way later in life, he’ll have no trouble enjoying his life with you, as long as you’re looking out for him.