There are a wide number of reasons why a pet might become deaf and while some have to do with age, many do not. Pets can be deaf from birth due to a physical abnormality or genetic issue (in some breeds certain white coat genes are linked to deafness) while younger pets can develop hearing loss in response to ear infections, certain viruses (like canine distemper), waxy build up or trauma.
For senior pets, some of the most common types of hearing loss seen are the result of changes to the nervous system or physical structures of the ear, exposure to medication or chronic ear infections. Like humans, as animals age they experience age-related changes in their bodies. Age-related hearing loss is also referred to as presbycusis and will normally affect both ears. These age-related hearing changes are normally the result of changes to the auditory nerve (the nerve that carries signals from the ear to the brain), the loss of the tiny hair cells that move in the ear as your hear (stereocilia) or a change in the function of either the inner ear bones or the eardrum.
In addition to these age-related changes, senior pets may also experience hearing loss due to medications. Certain types of chemotherapy, antibiotics and diuretic drugs have been known to cause hearing loss. It is important to note, however, that is your veterinarian is prescribing a medication that may cause hearing loss it would normally be in response to a far more serious condition and you should not stop giving your pet the medication without first speaking with your vet. Another common reason for hearing loss in senior pets can be an obstruction (blockage) in the ear canal. This could be the result of scar tissue from chronic ear infections or it may be caused by a build-up of wax and fur in the ear canal. All cases of suspected hearing loss should be seen by your vet as early as possible so your vet can examine your pet and determine what, if any, treatment is needed.
So what do you do if your cherished friend loses their hearing with age? Here are a few tips…
Make sure others know your pet cannot hear.
Alert and remind all visitors to the house, especially children, that your pet cannot hear and ask them to avoid approaching your pet from behind or bothering your pet while they are sleeping.
Stomp. Yes, seriously. Stomp.
We mentioned above to ask guests not to approach your deaf pet while it is sleeping, but this is not always realistic. You may need to approach your hearing-impaired pet while it is sleeping or when it is not looking at you. Stomping your feet to create vibrations in the floor is sometimes enough to get your pet’s attention and alert them that someone is approaching. Keep in mind that this will not work on concrete floors (you’ll just wind up with sore feet!).
Consider a vibrating collar.
Several companies have now come out with collars that will vibrate in response to a signal from a remote. If you decide to purchase one of these collars, remember that you are not using this as
a corrective tool but as a gentle way of alerting your pet and select the most comfortable setting for your pet. If you are unsure if a vibrating collar would be appropriate for your pet, speak with your veterinarian or a professional trainer in your area who has experience working with hearing-impaired pets. Also keep in mind, if you invest in a vibrating collar you will need to teach your pet what that vibration means!
If your pet begins to lose their hearing gradually, teaching your pet hand signals for known verbal commands can help to ease the transition. For pets that have lost their hearing suddenly, or for new skills (like responding to a vibrating collar) you may need to do some extra training with your pet. At Calgary Humane Society, our behavior team offers a behavior help line and private consultations and would be happy to suggest strategies and help you determine what additional training your pet may require.
For multiple pet homes, ensure there are escape routes.
Hearing-impaired pets can feel vulnerable in multi-pet households because it is easy for other pets to ‘sneak up’ on the pet that cannot hear, either by accident or on purpose. When setting up furniture or pet items, try to avoid any areas that may cause ‘dead ends’ or blind corners (areas where there is only one entrance or exit route or areas where a pet cannot see who is coming or going). Watching your pets interact can be a helpful way to determine what areas of the house result in these unexpected sneak attacks.
There you have it! A few tips and tricks to manage pet hearing loss. Did we miss one of your favorite techniques? Do you have a story of a hearing-impaired pet to share? Connect with us by sharing your comments on our Facebook page! We would love to know what you think! Is there a topic you would like to see covered during senior pet month?
Until next time, CHS supporters! Happy Senior Pet Month!