Pet Talk: Pets with disabilities: Deafness

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Pets can experience hearing loss just like humans. Hearing loss in pets may be the result of disease, old age, or the pet may even be born deaf. No matter the cause, pets with hearing loss can still be great companions.

Sometimes it may be difficult to determine if your pet is experiencing hearing loss. Because pets cannot verbally communicate how they are feeling, it is important for pet owners to pay attention to or record normal behavior in their pets in order to easily detect abnormal behavior. For instance, not responding to their name being called may be a sign of hearing loss in your pet. Other signs of hearing loss may include your pet being unresponsive to loud noises or food being poured into their food bowl.

One simple and effective way to see if your pet is experiencing hearing loss is to wait until your pet is asleep or not looking at you. Try to make loud noises without causing vibrations in the floor or allowing your pet to see your movement. If your pet is unresponsive to the noises you make, this could mean their hearing is not fully functional.

“When pets do not turn toward loud noises, this is a good marker they may be deaf,” said Dr. Stacy Eckman, clinical assistant professor. “If you clap or whistle, they should at least perk their ears up or turn toward the sound.”

Typically there is no cure for deafness or any way to slow the progression of hearing loss in pets. Since we cannot judge levels of hearing loss in pets like we can in people, pets can lose hearing ability before a hearing impairment is even detected. Hearing aids are typically not used in pets because they are expensive, may not be comfortable for the pet to wear, and they do not work in pets who have complete hearing loss. Although pet owners may think deafness bothers their pet, it may actually bother the owner more than the pet itself. For example, most dogs are not bothered by their deafness because hearing is not their main sense.

Despite their disability, pets with a hearing impairment can still learn commands via hand signals. As long as the hand signals are clear and consistent, a hearing-impaired pet can learn commands. In addition to teaching their pet hand signals, Eckman said some pet owners utilize vibrating collars to train and get their pet’s attention. These collars can be bought at most pet stores. No matter the method used, hearing-impaired pets are certainly trainable.

To keep your hearing-impaired pet safe, keep them in a fenced yard or in your home as you would with other pets. You may choose to add a bell to your pet’s collar so you always know where they are. In addition, it may be beneficial to add a tag on the pet’s collar to indicate they are deaf in case they ever get lost.

“If your aged pet becomes deaf, it can still be a wonderful companion,” Eckman said. “Teaching the pet commands based on hand signals and vibrations can further strengthen the bond with your pet. If you are adopting a deaf pet, they are still very trainable and great companions as well.”

Although some may think it can be challenging to care for a deaf pet, hearing-impaired pets are just as lovable as a pet with full hearing.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.

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