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Training and Caring for a Deaf Dog or Cat

By Christy True and medically reviewed by Sarah Wallace DVM
published: September 21, 2016 - updated: January 18, 2023 • 2 min. read
Couple hugging deaf dog

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 to search for a special needs dog or cat. From the filter menu choose More >> Care & Behavior >> Special Needs.
Christy True and Tomas
By Christy True

Christy has been writing about pets for Healthy Paws for 28 dog years. She also coordinates media requests. A background in journalism may be why she enjoys writing about offbeat animal studies and the latest viral pet trends. She has been owned by several dogs, and she volunteers with a local dog rescue. Outside of work, she can usually be found sliding down a mountain near her home in Bend, Ore.

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Sarah Wallace DVM profile photo
By Sarah Wallace DVM

Dr. Sarah Wallace is the vice president of telehealth at Galaxy Vets, based in Fort Collins, Colo. She is actively working to increase access to veterinary care, to develop more effective communication strategies to bridge the gap between veterinarian knowledge and pet parent understanding and build happy and sustainable veterinary teams. Dr. Wallace studied biology at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania and attended veterinary school at Western University of Health Sciences in California. After graduation, Dr. Wallace started working with Just Food for Dogs, an innovative pet food startup out of southern California advocating fresh, whole-food diets for dogs. She also completed a small animal rotating internship at San Francisco Veterinary Specialists - receiving one-on-one training with San Francisco's top veterinarians in internal medicine, neurology, dermatology, oncology and surgery. After working in clinical practice, Dr. Wallace joined the field of telehealth. Dr. Wallace writes and reviews blog content for Healthy Paws Pet Insurance. Dr. Sarah Wallace on LinkedIn Cardinal Veterinary Works Consulting

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