It can be quite upsetting when you start noticing the first signs of deafness in your dog. Although most canines are affected by congenital deafness, some become deaf through old age, an accident or certain types of medication, namely antibiotics. As upsetting as this may be there are hearing aids for dogs that work the same as hearing aids for humans.
You may notice that your dog does not respond to you the same way it used to, (you may think it is because your pet has become suddenly stubborn, but somehow his behaviour just doesn’t seem to add up somehow). You may also notice that he becomes uneasy when you touch his ears. He may sometimes shake his head around or he doesn’t wake up or respond when you call his name, only when you touch him. These are the first signs that your dog may have a hearing problem or is suffering from some hearing loss.
If you suspect that your dog may becoming deaf there are some home tests that you can do to ascertain this condition. If he/she is unilaterally deaf then home tests are not good enough to detect this particular kind of hearing problem. In this event I would recommend the BAER test. This is carried out by a specialized clinic. You can contact me for a comprehensive list of BAER test centres around the world.
One of the home tests that you can do is to squeeze a squeaky toy behind your dog when he is not looking (making sure that no air from the toy reaches him as he will sense the vibrations in the air and will turn around anyway which may fool you into thinking he can hear).
Another home test can be carried out by placing coins in a tin box and shaking it fairly close to your pet; dogs hate this sound and if you get a delayed or no response to this unpleasant noise then you can be fairly certain that something is wrong with your dog’s hearing.
If your dog becomes deaf it can be confusing for him at first as he notices changes in his everyday world. Do not forget that dogs adapt quite quickly and that you will most likely have to re-train him/her with a deaf dog sign training system.
The first question that deaf dog owners ask is whether or not the dog can be fitted with a hearing aid. The answer is usually yes however there are exceptions. It is not possible to use a hearing aid when the dog is born with a pigment- associated hearing impairment. The reason for this is that hearing aids acts as sound amplifiers and this method is of no use in cases of congenital deafness. For dogs who are going deaf for reasons other than genetics though and still have partial auditory function then hearing aids do provide one practical solution.
Dog hearing aids are custom made by your vet. He will take a mould of your dog’s ear canal. This is sent to a lab where a suitable and comfortable device will be built for your dog. The hearing aid will then be fitted in your dog’s ear(s) after the necessary tests have been carried out. This type of hearing aid is similar to the ‘behind the Ear'(BTE) hearing aids; in fact dog and human hearing devices are exactly the same.
You need to be aware that purchasing a dog hearing aid is a risky expense, since not all dogs react well to the sensation of having an object close to the ears and some will not want to wear it. It has been reported that smaller dogs do fairly well with these devices, whilst larger breeds do not tolerate them as well.
Dog hearing aids have become quite sophisticated, not to mention expensive but there are pet insurances who do cover such costs, assuming that you already have your dog insured
Other (expensive) options include cochlear prostheses or cochlear implants. These are the same devices that are implanted in deaf people. They are stimulating electrodes that are surgically inserted into one of the coils of the nerves is the cochlea. This is possible because these nerves, which connect to the brain, usually remain undamaged after the loss of the cochlea hair cells and therefore they may still be capable of responding to sound. These devices were tested on deaf Dalmatians. The device costs between $ 20,000 to $25,000 in addition to the cost of the surgery and post-surgery training. Because of the high cost of this procedure, even though cochlear prostheses in dogs are feasible, they are not practical.
I would always recommend dog owners to teach their dog to respond to hand signs, regardless. Hand signals are part of a clear dog training system that can benefit both hearing and non-hearing pets. If a dog is properly trained then they will find it easier to adjust to any changes to their hearing as they get older.
Remember that pets are very different from humans because they have no emotionally driven thought processes that can dis-empower them. By treating your dog with love and patience he/she will quickly adapt to their hearing impairment by naturally relying more on their other senses.