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What are Congenital Deafness?

This condition can be caused by a genetic defect such as those linked to multiple genes and gender, known as a recessive or autosomal dominant mutation. Experts say the most common cause of congenital deafness in dogs is related to pigment (the color of the coat). Therefore, dogs with any kind of light colored or white pigmentation of the skin or coat can be a predisposed to deafness. The unpigmented skin in the inner ear causes the nerve endings to atrophy and die in your dog’s first few weeks of life. However, this is not infallible because not all dogs with white ears are deaf and not all deaf dogs have white ears.

Congenital deafness may be inherited or acquired by an illness such as toxic exposure, liver disease, the side effect of a drug, and intrauterine infections. Some of the most commonly affected breeds are Dalmatians, Bull Terriers, Australian Cattle Dogs, English Setters, English Cocker Spaniels, Boston Terriers, and Parson Russell Terriers. Congenital deafness has been found in over 80 different breeds, but it may be found in any breed. Those dogs with spots, dapples, or merle coats or those with white skin or fur are predisposed to congenital deafness. The most commonly affected breed is the Dalmatian, of which there are almost 30% that are deaf.

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Symptoms of Congenital Deafness in Dogs

If your dog has congenital deafness, the symptoms may start a few weeks after they are born. Also, it may take a while to notice the deafness because the symptoms are not physically visible. However, the most often reported signs of congenital deafness includes:

  • Aggressiveness when playing with other puppies
  • Ignoring squeaky toys and other noisy toys
  • No response to loud noises such as doorbells, barking, whistling, clapping, and yelling
  • Abnormal amount of sleeping compared to other dogs
  • Jumping or snapping when woken or touched when not looking
  • Lack of activity
  • Ignoring commands
  • Unusual vocalizing
  • Confusion and disorientation

Types

Congenital Acquired Deafness is not common in dogs, but can be the result of toxicity in utero or an infection during pregnancy such as meningitis. Antibiotics or other medication given to the mother during pregnancy can also cause congenital deafness in your puppy.

Congenital Hereditary Deafness is the most common cause of deafness in dogs and affects dogs with white pigmentation. Even if your dog’s coat is dark, their skin can have white pigmentation as can the ears or the rims of the eyes and nose.

Causes of Congenital Deafness in Dogs

There are approximately 80 breeds that have reportedly been affected by congenital deafness.

  • Beagle
  • Collie
  • German Shepherd
  • Staffordshire Terrier
  • Akita
  • Parson Russell Terrier
  • Boston Terrier
  • English Cocker Spaniel
  • English Setter
  • Australian Cattle Dog
  • Bull Terrier
  • Dalmatian

Diagnosis of Congenital Deafness in Dogs

If your dog is one of the breeds at a high risk of having congenital deafness, it is important that you get him tested, whether you have noticed any symptoms or not. Recording this disorder in dogs is essential to the study of the disease and may help find a cure. A complete physical assessment will be done first, checking your dog’s vital signs and body condition. There are also several tests that the veterinarian will want to do to rule out other conditions such as blood tests, urinalysis, and x-rays or ultrasound.

There is one test that can be used to definitively diagnose your dog, which is the brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER) test. You cannot test your dog until after he is two weeks old because the ear canals are not yet open. This procedure is done by placing recording electrodes on your dog’s ears. Clicks are sounded into the ear through a headphone and the responses are then sent to an electro diagnostic machine that shows the waveforms of the ears. The results of this test are usually very effective and the veterinarian will be able to tell you how much hearing your dog has, if any.

Treatment of Congenital Deafness in Dogs

There is no treatment for congenital deafness in dogs. It can be prevented in some cases by not giving your dog any medication and getting regular checkups during pregnancy. You can use a vibrating collar to help with training your dog, if needed, or there are training classes for you and your dog to learn hand signals.

Recovery of Congenital Deafness in Dogs

Since your dog cannot hear cars or other dangers, it is best to keep him on a leash or in a fenced area while outside and keep a tag on his collar that says “Deaf” so others know he cannot hear them. Teaching your dog to follow hand signals is just as easy as training a dog that is not deaf. It just takes time and patience. Your veterinarian can help you find the right kind of training plan for you and your dog.