Understanding Pet Hearing Loss

Can you guess this handsome caballero’s breed? Answer provided next week.

Hearing loss is a common complaint that I hear from pet owners everyday, especially as dogs and cats grow older. Many pets begin to lose hearing between ages 11 to 14, and it is often a gradual loss with pets having good hearing days and bad hearing days. The most common cause is an age related change called otosclerosis, which makes the tiny components of the inner ear less pliable and unable to function (vibrate) as they should. Because the precise function of the ear is to transmit sound waves, the suppleness of the inner structures is critical to function.

A dog that has suffered from chronic recurrent external canal otitis is even more likely to suffer from this due to formation of scar tissue and swelling. Other causes that can impact hearing include the effects of repeated loud noises, as in people, and the ototoxic effects of certain drugs.

Many geriatric dogs can suffer from multiple conditions, like senility and early vision loss, that can lead to them seeming to be less responsive. Both hearing loss and vision loss can make pets more tentative in all they do. Some older pets also develop cognitive dysfunction syndrome (senility) which can make them detached from family life. Even arthritis can be a factor in a dog’s overall response to owners verbal instructions.

Here are some helpful ideas when dealing with a pet with hearing loss:

  • Teach your pet visual cues so that the impact of the hearing deficit is minimized in daily life. Senior pets can learn to respond to hand signals for many commands, and using small training treats will rapidly reinforce this process. Better yet, incorporate hand signals into training pets when young.
  • Investigate vibration collars purposely designed to rouse and interest your dog the way sounds used to. Vibration collars are remote controlled so you can train your pet that the vibration means you are home, so Rover can meet you at the door, for example.
  • Teach your dog appropriate responses to the cues so that he feels secure even without his hearing. Dogs especially love consistency and knowing the response you desire makes for a calmer and more confident geriatric pet.

Hearing loss doesn’t mean your pet can’t lead a full and happy life, but you should be mindful of your pet’s new challenges and both of you will happily adapt to this new phase of life.

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