How to spot signs of deafness in cats and dogs

How to spot signs of deafness in cats and dogs

If you’re a pet lover, you’ll know how quickly our furry friends become part of the family. They’re waiting to greet us when we get home from work, there for evening snuggles and part of treasured memories.

Here at Go Get It, we understand how behavioural changes in your pet pooch or pussycat can cause a great deal of worry and stress.

If your pet has started ignoring verbal cues or acting out, one potential cause is hearing problems.

We’re here to help. We compare pet insurance packages so you don’t have to, saving you time and money – one less headache.

When your pet has health issues, it’s vital to already have reliable cover that protects you and your beloved ball of fur. 

We care about your peace of mind. If you’re concerned your pet might be going deaf, read through our guide to spotting deafness in cats and dogs, and learn more about the common signs.

A cat inside looking up at its owner

Types of hearing loss


Congenital deafness

Congenital deafness – deafness at birth – is more common to specific breeds due to genetic factors.

The condition is believed to be linked to various genes as well as possible additional elements of risk related to breed.


Conductive deafness

The Animal Health Trust states that conductive deafness occurs when the transmission of sound waves to the inner ear is obstructed.

This can be caused by issues such as: a ruptured eardrum; an infection in the middle ear; a foreign body or wax blocking the ear canal.


Sensorineural deafness

This is caused when the auditory pathway is damaged or has defects, anywhere from the inner ear’s cochlea to the brain’s auditory cortex.


Deafness in dogs

A deaf dog standing looking at its owner

There are several types of deafness your pooch could be suffering from.

While the impairment is more prevalent in certain breeds, no breed is invulnerable to developing hearing issues.


Which breeds tend to be affected?

Congenital deafness is seen as a recurring problem in breeds carrying the extreme piebald gene – meaning canines with predominantly white coats.

The Kennel Club states that commonly affected breeds include:

  • Dalmatians
  • White Boxers
  • White Bull Terriers
  • Australian Shepherds
  • Border Collies
  • English Setters

This may be linked to a flaw in the pigment cells’ movement, or their contact with other elements within the inner ear during the embryonic phase.

In the early stages of a puppy’s life, unpigmented skin triggers nerve endings to break down.

Congenital deafness is also common among canines carrying the gene related to the merle coat colour.

This gene causes: blue or mis-matched eyes; mottled colour amidst solid or piebald coats; and possible skin pigmentation effects. The Kennel Club says breeds associated with this gene include:

  • Dappled Dachshunds
  • Old English Sheepdogs
  • Border Collies
  • Australian Shepherds

Blue irises are caused by an absence of pigment, so it’s believed that this may be mirrored in the inner ears, with a lack of pigment cells causing deafness.

Hearing issues are not limited to coat colour: pooches of all colours can be affected.

You can never predict how your canine’s health will develop, so compare pet insurance with us today and protect yourself from potentially large vet bills.


4 signs your dog may be going deaf

A deaf dog standing next to a door

If you suspect your dog is suffering from hearing problems, here are four signs to look out for:

1. Excessive barking

Animals regulate the volume of their voice by putting their sense of hearing to use.

If your dog’s losing that ability, their barking may get louder and more frequent in response to the change in sensation.

2. Heightened startle reflex

As with humans, a dog learning to live with deafness will start to depend on their other senses.

Senses such as touch become more sensitive, making your pooch startle more easily.

If you notice your furry friend reacting differently to stimuli such as the vibration of a door slamming or a sudden touch, hearing loss may be the reason.

3. Decreased obedience

Hearing issues are easily mistaken for bad behaviour when it comes to doggy deafness.

Owners might be bewildered when their previously well-behaved pup starts appearing to ignore whistles or commands.

4.Passive and withdrawn demeanour

If your dog’s sleeping more regularly and not acting sociable, it may be in response to hearing loss.

Withdrawing may help them cope and acclimatise to this new way of being.


Deafness in cats

A cat laying asleep

While there are a number of reasons your cat could suffer hearing loss, it’s worth noting that old age is a common cause.

In addition to this, felines with blue eyes and all-white fur often suffer from congenital deafness.

Purina lists other potential causes:

  • Permanent hearing loss triggered by neurological issues, untreated middle ear infections or injury.
  • Polyps or tumours in the ear canal
  • Temporary hearing loss due to mild parasitic, bacterial or fungal infections
  • Temporary hearing loss as a side effect of specific drugs


4 signs your cat may be going deaf

A cat looking out of a window

If you suspect your cat’s hearing may be failing, try looking for these four signs:

1. Loud meowing

Just like dogs, if your pussycat loses the ability to regulate the volume of his/her voice via hearing, loud meowing could occur.

2. Deep sleeping

Diminished hearing might mean your cat’s harder to rouse when sleeping, only waking when you physically alert them.

3. Lack of responsiveness

Consider getting your kitty’s hearing checked if they repeatedly fail to respond to auditory cues: it may indicate hearing loss.

4. Cautious behaviour

A cat with diminished hearing may observe family members and other household pets more acutely, reading their movements as a means of keeping track of daily goings on.


How can I definitively tell if my cat or dog’s deaf?

Two vets holding a cat and a dog in a veterinary surgery

If you’re concerned your pet is suffering from hearing problems, the BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) test is the most definitive means of checking.

However, if you believe your pet’s hearing issues could be caused by other medical problems, first consult your vet.


What is the BAER test?

The BAER test works by recording the electrical activity in your furry friend’s brain, in response to auditory stimulation.

Recording electrodes sit on your pet’s head, then sounds are emitted into one ear via headphones.

These sounds then travel through an electrodiagnostic machine. 

If hearing is normal, a rising and falling motion will appear on the screen.

The test can also detect if your pooch or kitty is unilaterally or bilaterally deaf.

Unilateral deafness occurs in one ear, while bilateral deafness occurs in both ears. In both cases, the condition is irreversible.

Puppies’ ear canals don’t open until they reach 12-14 days of age, so it’s not worth performing the BAER test until they’re 5 ½-6 ½ weeks old.

After this point, dogs of all ages can be tested.

A young puppy on a walk in a harness

A puppy older than eight weeks may need sedation before testing, but the first attempt should always be without sedation.

An older dog should be denied food on the day of the test, in case sedation is necessary.

Kittens are suitable for testing once they’re eight weeks old.

While the cat is the animal most commonly given the BAER test, cats may be less likely to comply without sedation.

Because of this, both kittens and cats should be denied food on the day of the test if a vet tells you to.

Once the test is complete and the results are in, a certificate is issued, which states your pet’s hearing capability.

A vet will then verify and sign it.


Why should I get my dog or cat tested?

Getting a definitive answer as to whether your canine or feline is deaf or not helps give you peace of mind, possibly ruling out other health concerns.

It also enables you to work with, and not against, your pet’s state of being, finding new ways to communicate if they’re proven to be deaf.

In addition, it is not recommended that hearing-impaired dogs are used for breeding.

While they make wonderful and lovable pets, the chance of affected offspring is considerably higher than it is for the offspring of dogs with bilaterally normal hearing.


How to help a deaf cat or dog

A dog and a cat laying on a sofa with their owner

Whether your pet suffers from bilateral or unilateral deafness, there are things you can do to help your treasured friend have the best quality of life.


Alternative communication

Keep the bond between the two of you strong, replacing voice commands with consistent, clear hand signals.

Always ensure your pet sees you approach, as pets with hearing issues are more easily startled.

Your pet can still feel, even if he/she can’t hear, so try using gentle vibrations as a means of announcing your presence.

Lightly stomp your foot before attempting to pet them, for example.

Spruce Pets recommends using a dog whistle, as they emit high-frequency sound waves which may be within your pup’s hearing range.

For feline owners, try using a “pet locator”, attaching it to your cat’s collar.

The locator lets out a sound when activated by a hand-held controller, helping you locate your cat when necessary.

Purina also suggests using a torch to call your pussycat in for mealtimes when it’s dark – cats are quick learners, so new patterns should form quickly.


Reward learning

It can be overwhelming adapting to a world without sound.

Your pet will take time to acclimatise, so be patient, kind and reward responsiveness with treats.

When your pooch or feline fluffball responds to a hand signal, for example, reward with treats and affection.

Positive reinforcement will make the transition easier for you and your pet.


Keep them safe

Hearing loss makes your pooch or pussycat less safe outdoors, unable to hear oncoming vehicles - this increases the chance of accidents happening, and keep deaf pets on leads at all times when outdoors.

If your cat isn’t happy on a lead, you may want to consider keeping him/her inside permanently.


The benefits and possible drawbacks of adopting an older pet

A senior dog sitting with its head tilted

Adopting an older pet can be an incredibly rewarding experience, offering a stable and loving home within which they can feel safe and cared for.

Older pets are often already microchipped and vaccinated, saving you a considerable amount of money.

They’re also more likely to be housetrained, diminishing the chance of damage in the home.

Better yet, by adopting an older pet you’re helping combat overpopulation, puppy farms and pet shops.

Animal Friends states that “it is said that animals know when they’ve been rescued,” so it’s likely the bond between the two of you will be even deeper.

Of course, an older pet is likely to have more medical issues, including deafness, so it’s vital you seek the best available insurance – compare pet insurance today with Go Get It.

An older pet may come with behavioural issues, so may require extra time, training and attention – this should be taken into consideration when picking your pet, too.


Who might be best suited to a senior pet?

A senior pet can make a perfect companion for a senior person.

Older pets tend to have calmer demeanours and are content to simply keep their owner company, requiring less exercise and attention.

They’re a wonderful source of affection and love for those who might be lonely.

Studies have shown that pet ownership can increase your life expectancy, reducing stress levels and blood pressure while increasing serotonin and dopamine levels.

Older, previously house-trained pets are ideal for senior owners who may not have the energy to handle a puppy.

They’re also ideal for busy families with young children.


Where to find older pets to adopt

A line-up of older pets

You can adopt pets from various animal rescue charities, or via rehoming websites.

An older, rehomed pet will likely need plenty of love, reassurance and guidance when they first join your family.

Make sure you have a suitable bed, toys, treats and food ready for their arrival, and working on building trust through positive reinforcement.

While you can take plenty of safeguarding measures, you can never entirely ensure your pet’s safety.

That’s why you should compare pet insurance at Go Get It.

We do the hard for you, comparing quotes from a range of leading pet insurance companies to find the best cover for you and your beloved furry friend.

Don’t wait, get a quote today.


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