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Assisting Your Senior Dog With Hearing Loss

As dogs age they can develop a slew of different ailments or show their bodies signs of aging in different ways. Like us as dogs get older, they develop aching joints, weakness, graying fur, and even hearing loss. While there are many things that can help pets, like wheelchairs and medications/vitamins for mobility loss, and blind dog halos for sight there are less options for dogs who are overtime losing their ability to hear. There are many breeds that are born with or early on develop deafness or hearing loss, but as many of these dogs lose their hearing early on it is a smoother transition.

Having a dog that needs to wear a splint or even a cone because of an injury or surgery is a hard enough concept for them to try and understand. Slowly or even suddenly losing their ability to hear can be very difficult for them. In most puppy training, many dogs are trained strictly by verbal cues and commands. While effective, relying solely on verbal cues leaves dogs dependent on hearing as a form their main form of communication. The progressive loss of communication between you and your beloved senior pup is challenging and devastating. In this article I’ll touch on some of the things you will want to look out for and some things you can do to help retrain your senior dog suffering from hearing loss and what you can do to make the whole process more comfortable for them.

Signs of Hearing Loss in an Older Dog

  1. Your dog suddenly ignores you. Look for indicators when you talk to your dog, are they reacting when you talk to them? Do they tilt their head or lift their ears? Do they look at you when you speak? A lack of response from your dog could be a sign their hearing is deteriorating. Your dog suddenly developing “selective hearing” may not be so selective.
  2. Many dogs dealing with hearing loss will sleep more frequently. While we want our dogs to sleep well, if you are noticing your aging dog sleeping much deeper and not being woken up from the same level of noise that they would wake up from in the past it is a telling sign they may be suffering from hearing loss.
  3. In the same vein of them having deeper sleeps, if you notice they startle from their sleep easier and are slightly more aggressive when suddenly awoken this can also be a sign they are losing their sense of hearing. 
  4. A strong indicator of canine hearing loss includes a lack of reaction to sounds that used to excite them. If sounds like picking up car keys, squeaking their favorite toy, the sound of traffic, or even shaking their treat jar, no longer get a reaction, it’s a sign that your dog may become deaf.

If you are noticing these developing issues with your senior pet, it is always important to go to your Vet so they can run some tests and give you a proper diagnosis and advice.

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Walkin’ Wheels Dog Wheelchair
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Walkin’ Drag Bag

How to Keep a Hearing-Impaired Dog Comfortable 

Having a pet lose their ability to hear is tough at any age, but there are many challenges that senior dogs and their families can face while trying to relearn how to interact. There are a few key things you can do and will need to know moving forward so you can ensure your senior dog is acclimating to their loss of hearing in a positive way. 

1. Get Their Hearing Checked

The first thing you will want to do, after getting a diagnosis from your vet, is learn on retraining your dog and yourself with new visual cues and commands. While it may be more difficult to teach an old dog new tricks, it does not mean it’s impossible. By using hand signals, or even sign language you can retrain your older dog similar commands from their past, but instead using their sense of sight as the main connection. 

2. Find New Ways to Communicate

Work on new ways to make your presence known without frightening your dog. If your furry friend can’t hear you entering or leaving a space and you suddenly appear or disappear it can lead them to having unneeded stress. Creating signs that you are entering or leaving a room if you are not in your dog’s direct line of sight is a good way to make things a little less stressful for them. Try flicking the lights on and off to get your pet’s attention. Use your dog’s other senses to communicate, such as smell which is more more powerful in dogs than humans. Use strong smelling treats that reinforce sign training for commands or help to get your dog’s attention while sleeping.

Learning how to appropriately wake them up from a deep sleep is a benefit for your senior pet, just as much as it will be for you. Being suddenly shaken or aggressively touched while sleeping and startled away is not fun for us, nor is it fun for the four-legged companion in your life. If you are trying to wake your deaf or hearing-impaired dog it is important that you are gentle. Try to make your touch soothing and pets light. This will make for a much more enjoyable experience for both you and your pet. 

It’s important to note that a deaf dog may also be senile and can be frightened by being abruptly awakened. Leave enough space between you and your dog that you can back away if needed and never put your face directly near their mouth when waking a sleeping deaf dog.

3. Explore Technology for Deaf Dogs

The last thing I want to touch on is how you can use technology to make the situation a bit easier. Vibration collars are a great way of getting your deaf dog’s attention, while also helping you locate your hearing-impaired dog, by giving off a sound if programmed to do so. If using a vibrating collar for communication, remember to take them off regularly and check the skin underneath for rashes or hair loss. Proper fit is important. The collar must be fitted well for comfort. Leave at least one finger space in between the collar and dog. If the dog looks frightened, pawing at the collar, or tries to bite it, another form of communication is recommended.

If your dog is only suffering from partial hearing loss, getting a storm or disaster whistle is a good way to get their attention, especially in emergencies. This type of whistle is louder than other dog whistles so dogs who still have some form of hearing may benefit from this  tool. Before getting either of these tools it is important that you keep your Vet in the loop and first ask if they think they are a good course of action based on your dog’s condition. 

In Conclusion

While a diagnosis that your dog is going deaf is scary, it is easily managed and most dogs adjust easily to hearing loss. At the end of the day your dog’s hearing loss should not hinder their quality of life. Deaf dogs cope well with their condition and it’s not necessarily a condition that requires euthanasia, so always seek help if you need it. Just because your dog cannot hear you tell them how much you love them doesn’t mean you can’t communicate it to them in other ways! As always playtime, treats and cuddles are always great ways to show your dog, no matter their age or loss of their physical senses will stop you from loving them!

Dr. Corinne Wigfall, DVM's Profile Picture

Guest Author:
Dr. Corinne Wigfall, DVM

Veterinarian Dr. Corinne Wigfall, DVM graduated from University of Nottingham, U.K, in 2014 and lives in New Zealand. Cori has worked with all animals big and small over the years. Currently, she splits her time between writing and working as an emergency care veterinarian. When not working, she enjoys taking Amber, her Labrador puppy out for adventures, and finding new sewing projects to get stuck into!

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