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While deafness in horses is rare, there appears to be certain genetic predispositions that may indicate a higher risk of deafness. Deafness can be partial or full, meaning your horse may react to sudden loud noises, but struggle to hear everything. However, on the other hand, he may not react to any noise and you may notice he is easily startled due to not being able to rely on his hearing.
While deafness will change your horse’s life, it does not mean he is not capable of living a fulfilling one. There are 3 common causes of deafness in horses: trauma, infection, and congenital.
If your horse is becoming deaf, you may notice a change in his behavior. He may no longer respond to verbal cues; he may tilt his head and exhibit abnormal gait, among many other possible symptoms. These symptoms can mimic injury, neurological conditions, cysts and more so it will be important to look for more specific symptoms.
Deafness in horses is rare, but does happen. You may notice that your horse does not react to sudden noises and spooks easily. There may be partial or full deafness as well in your horse.
Symptoms vary greatly from horse to horse when deafness is present.
There are 2 types of deafness your horse can experience.
The 3 main causes of deafness in your horse stem from trauma, infection and congenital defects.
Infection or Inflammation
If your suspect your horse is suffering from deafness, a visit with the veterinarian will be necessary to identify the underlying cause of his symptoms. It will be important to identify and share with the veterinarian if your horse has recently experienced any injury or trauma that could be the cause of his symptoms.
Your veterinarian will want to perform a neurological exam as well. This exam will help to determine more signs and symptoms that your horse may be suffering that could lead towards a differential diagnosis of deafness. Once the exams are complete, testing will be necessary.
Two of the tests typically done for this condition are the BAER (brainstem auditory evoked response) test and the click test. The BAER test is the primary test used to diagnose deafness and tests the auditory pathways. This test is noninvasive and safe for your horse. The click test is done using earphones that produce clicks that activate fluid in the ear, and test if it activates signals in the brain or not. In addition, your veterinarian may want to do an endoscopic exam to view and evaluate the ear structure.
Treatment options will be based on the underlying cause of your horse’s deafness. In the event of infection, medication may be prescribed to eliminate the cause. However, if the event is trauma or congenital, there may not be any way to correct the damage done to your horse’s hearing. If the cause is an ototoxic medication, cessation of the drug may resolve a temporary deafness.
It may be a matter of working with your horse on his new adaption to the world around him. Treatment will revolve around training and working with your horse’s abilities rather than trying to correct the hearing loss.
Follow up appointments will only be necessary if your horse has been injured or required any type of medical intervention. If your horse developed deafness later in his life and was already trained, it will be easier to work with him on adapting. Once you are aware of your horse’s deafness it will be easier to work with him and help his adjust through physical or visual cues rather than verbal cues.
It is very possible for your horse to still train, perform and show with some adaption on both of your parts. It is important to remember he may easily startle and remember to approach him where he can see you so he is not alarmed.
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