Training and Caring for a Deaf Dog or Cat
Reviewed for accuracy on March 4, 2020 by Sarah Wallace, DVM
Whether you own a pet who has gone deaf over time or you are thinking of adopting a deaf pet, you probably already know that owning a hearing-impaired pet can be just as fulfilling as any other beloved pet family member. It’s just a little different.
- What causes deafness? Deafness in dogs and cats is just like humans: it can be from birth, or from illness such as chronic ear infections, trauma, drug reactions, or simply old age. If you suspect your pet may be deaf, a visit to the vet should help you determine if your dog or cat is hearing impaired.
- How are deaf pets different? Deaf pets are similar to hearing pets in most ways; they are intelligent, affectionate, and make all the same sounds (whining, yipping and barking for dogs or meowing for cats). They live full lives and can easily adapt to any home, with a few special considerations. If there is any question as to their cuteness, photographer Melissa McDaniel dedicated a whole photo book to deaf dogs.
- Are some breeds more prone to deafness? Some breeds have hereditary deafness, for example, 30% of Dalmatians are born deaf in one or both ears. White cats with one or two blue eyes have a higher incidence of genetic deafness as well.
- Can you train deaf pets? Yes, absolutely! It will take more work than with a hearing pet, but is also rewarding. For dogs, instead of using your voice, you will use hand signals. If you pick up an American Sign Language pocketbook, you may be surprised at how many “words” your dog can learn. Remember to reward your pet with a high-value treat when the command is completed successfully. Never punish or scold your pet for not following commands; if they need more training, you can easily provide additional positive reinforcement training. There are a few other adaptations you can make to communicate with your dog, for example, thumping on the floor to get his attention. You can also buy a vibrating collar that can be used for training. For cats, you can establish routines using other visual cues, such as turning on lights, waving your arms and using a laser pointer.
- What special care do they require? With a dog, you will want a fenced yard and you will definitely want to make sure your deaf dog is on a leash since they can’t hear cars or danger approaching. Try not to wake your deaf dog or cat, unless you have to. If you must wake them, you will want to do it by touching them gently. Don’t startle them with sudden movements. You can also consider a GPS tracker for your dog’s collar so you know where they are. The Deaf Dog Education Action Fund has lots of resources on their website for additional deaf dog needs. The most important thing is to be patient with your deaf pet; give them time to adjust to their condition, and always treat them with love.
- How can I adopt a deaf pet? Simply call your local animal shelters or rescue organizations and ask if they have any deaf pets up for adoption. You can also use Petfinder.com to search for a special needs dog or cat. From the filter menu choose More >> Care & Behavior >> Special Needs.