Deafness in pets: what you can expect

Deafness is perhaps not something one associates all that often with pets. However, there are more than 30 breeds of dogs that have a known susceptibility for deafness and it affects cats too. Dog breeds most often affected include: the Boston Terrier, Australian Shepherd, Cocker Spaniel, Dalmatian, German Shepherd, Jack Russell, Maltese, Toy and Miniature Poodle, and West Highland White Terrier.

Deafness refers to the lack (or loss) of an animal’s ability to hear — this can either be complete or partial loss. If the dog is deaf at birth (congenital), it will be very apparent to you at a young age. Typically, it is more common in senior dogs.

Symptoms of deafness

These include:

  • Your pet’s unresponsiveness to everyday sounds
  • His/her failure to come when called
  • Unresponsiveness to the sound of squeaky toys
  • Not being woken by loud noises

Causes of deafness

  1. Inflammation of the outer ear and other external ear canal disease (such as tumours or a ruptured ear drum) or an inflammation of the middle ear
  2. Degenerative nerve changes in elderly pets
  3. Poor development in that part of the ear that contains the nerve receptors used for hearing; tumours or cancers of the nerves
  4. Inflammatory or infectious diseases
  5. Canine distemper virus
  6. Trauma
  7. Toxins and drugs: many people don’t realise that chemicals and other products can damage the hearing. NEVER put any medication/drops/other substances (e.g. hydrogen peroxide, vinegar) into your pet’s ear without consulting with a veterinarian. They need to ensure that the pet’s eardrum is intact before medication can be administered. This is the best way to prevent deafness in a pet.
  8.  Antibiotics
  9.  Antiseptics
  10. Chemotherapy drugs
  11. Medications to remove excess fluid from the body
  12. Heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, or mercury
  13. Miscellaneous — products used to break down waxy material in the ear canal

Other risk factors

  • Long-term (chronic) inflammation of the outer, middle, or inner ear – any ear infection/irritation/smell from the ears warrants a consultation to limit ear damage
  • Certain genes or white coat colour

How a deafness diagnosis is made

Your vet will need to take a complete history of your pet, including any drugs that may have damaged the ear or caused a chronic ear disease. If your dog shows deafness from an early age, this suggests a birth defect which some breeds are predisposed to.

Sometimes the deafness could, in fact, be brain disease. Brain disease is a slow progressive disease of the cerebral cortex, usually caused by senility or cancer — making the brain not able to register what the ear can hear. Bacterial cultures and hearing tests, as well as sensitivity testing of the ear canal, may also be used to diagnose the underlying condition.


Unfortunately, any deafness at birth (congenital) is irreversible. If it is caused by an inflammation of the outer, middle, or inner ear, your vet may suggest medical or surgical intervention. Hearing aids can also sometimes be used for dogs.

Living with a deaf pet

Reduce your pet’s activity to avoid injury.

a) Keep a deaf dog away from roads and driveways as he or she won’t hear approaching cars.

b) Keep a deaf cat indoors for protection against being injured by cars or other animals that they may not hear outdoors.

c) Tell all members of your family, friends and visitors that your dog or cat is deaf and that they must avoid touching your pet when he/she is asleep. Your pet will be startled awake and may bite or scratch as a result.

d)  Teach your pet hand signals , e.g. sit, stay and come.

e) Be patient. Treat your deaf pet the way you would a deaf person. Yelling at a deaf pet isn’t going to make it hear you any better.


  • article extracted from PetMD with input by EberVet veterinarian Dr Ingrid De Wet