Just like humans, dogs are sometimes born with impaired hearing or experience hearing loss as a result of disease, inflammation, aging or exposure to noise. Dog owners and K-9 handlers ought to keep this in mind when adopting or caring for dogs, and when bringing them into noisy environments, says Dr. Kari Foss, a veterinary neurologist and professor of veterinary clinical medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
In a new report in the journal Topics in Companion Animal Medicine, Foss and her colleagues describe cases of hearing loss in three working dogs: a gun dog, a sniffer dog and a police dog. One of the three had permanent hearing loss, one responded to treatment and the third did not return to the facility where it was originally diagnosed for follow-up care.
The case studies demonstrate that those who work with police or hunting dogs “should be aware of a dog’s proximity to gunfire and potentially consider hearing protection,” Foss said. Several types of hearing protection for dogs are available commercially.
Just as in humans, loud noises can harm the delicate structures of a dog’s middle and inner ear.
“Most commonly, noise-induced hearing loss results from damage to the hair cells in the cochlea that vibrate in response to sound waves,” Foss said. “However, extreme noise may also damage the eardrum and the small bones within the inner ear, called the ossicles.”
Pet owners or dog handlers tend to notice when an animal stops responding to sounds or commands. However, it is easy to miss the signs, especially in dogs with one or more canine companions, Foss said.
“In puppies with congenital deafness, signs may not be noticed until the puppy is removed from the litter,” she said.