The last full week of September is Deaf Dog Awareness Week – but Encanto Pet Clinic wants to devote the entire month of October to raising awareness about the issues of deafness in dogs.
An Arizona group called Amazing Aussies, Lethal White Rescue of Arizona, was formed in 2005 after a Phoenix couple, Deana and Jim Kilgo, adopted a deaf and blind puppy from a Midwest Farm. They realized they needed to train this puppy to handle its disabilities, so they volunteered with a local group that worked with deaf Australian Shepherd dogs. They and their rescue partner, Lorraine Ayers, went on to found Amazing Aussies. Encanto Pet Clinic client Travis Sherbourne coordinates the Tucson chapter of the group. She connected with the organization at Petco, in 2009. When she met 69 lb. deaf and blind Akira, she was hooked. She now shares her home with Auggie, Cara, and Hushpuppy.
“I am always in awe of these dogs,” says Sherbourne,” especially the ones that are deaf and blind. I have two dogs that are primarily deaf. One has starburst pupils, so she is very light sensitive. My third dog from Amazing Aussies is deaf and vision impaired as only one eye is fully developed.”
Causes of deafness in dogs
According to a 2005 study at Louisiana State University, deafness can be acquired as a result of trauma, infection, pharmaceutical use, liver disorders, aging, or toxic exposures. But it can also be inherited. Inherited deafness is sometimes associated with pigmentation patterns; the presence of white in the hair coat increases the possibility of deafness. Deafness has been reported in more than 85 dog breeds. Two pigmentation genes in particular are connected with deafness: the merle gene, as seen in the Collie, Australian Shepherd, Harlequin Great Dane, and Shetland Sheepdog, and others; and the piebald gene, as seen in the Bulldog, Bull Terrier, Samoyed, Dalmation and other breeds. Deafness sometimes develops in the first few weeks of the puppy’s life when the blood supply to the cochlea is diminished, perhaps because of the absence of melanocytes (cells that produce pigment), and the nerve cells die. But sometimes hair cell death is the primary cause and not the result of degeneration.
Fido, can you hear me?
Not sure if your dog is deaf or hearing impaired? You could try a few simple tests at home:
- Stand in a place where your dog cannot see you, and call to him in a normal voice. Raise the volume and tone of your voice to see if he responds.
- Squeak a favorite toy, or rattle keys.
- Have someone knock on the door, or rattle a doorknob, and watch your dog’s response.
Sometimes it is difficult to recognize that a dog is deaf. If the dog is unilaterally deaf (deaf in only one ear), he may seem to hear normally unless a special test, called the BAER test (brainstem auditory evoked response) is performed.
A deaf dog might exhibit one or more of these symptoms:
- He seems to “ignore” your commands.
- He scratches or shakes his head and ears.
- He barks more often.
- He has a strong odor coming from his ears.
- He seems to sleep more soundly.
- He is timid and nervous when moving from room to room or when outdoors.
- He snaps or growls when you touch him from behind.
If you suspect that your dog is deaf, schedule an appointment to have him examined at Encanto Pet Clinic. If necessary, our veterinarians and staff can help you schedule a BAER test with Veterinary Specialty Center of Tucson.
Sherbourne says there can be challenges with a deaf dog, and she offers a few tips:
- Train your dog using hand signals and touch. A flashlight or a rolling ball can redirect their attention. And remember – positive reinforcement! Deaf dogs can be trained as well as hearing dogs – watch this video for proof!
- Always double-check the safety of your home and yard, says Sherbourne. Make sure gates are locked, garage doors are down, and windows are secured. “A loose deaf dog is more vulnerable, especially around traffic.”
- Identify your dog as deaf, using special bandannas, harnesses or vests such as this one. “I have to educate people who approach my dogs – but a deaf dog is really a dog. Each one is different. Though Augie usually has a leash or bandana stating he is deaf and vision impaired, a lot of folks don’t see them. It startles him if a child rushes up from behind to hug him.”
- Kate Titus of A Loyal Companion has experience working with deaf dogs. Deaf dogs can benefit from the stimulation and social opportunities in a group class.
- Gabriel’s Angels, Pets Helping Kids, uses pet therapy teams to help children with issues including deafness.
- Amazing Aussies offers support and has a number of deaf dogs available for adoption or fostering. To adopt a dog, email , or go to their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AmazingAussies
- Keller the Double Merle has a Facebook page with lots of information on deafness in dogs.
- Deaf Dogs Rock is not a local organization, but the website is full of information on training and living with a deaf dog, as well as opportunities to adopt a dog in need of a forever home.