How to care for pets that are deaf

September 27, 2023
dog that is deaf sitting in kennel

There are many reasons why a pet may not be able to hear. They may have been born with a congenital condition, they may suffer from chronic ear infections or an injury, or it could be due to old age.

“If you suspect your pet may be deaf, try clapping or jingling your keys loudly while they’re sleeping or turned away from you. If they don’t react, it’s possible they can’t hear you,” says Dr. Kelly Gehlhaus, AHS’s Managing Clinic Veterinarian. “A visit to your vet can confirm whether your pet has hearing loss.”

Whatever the cause, pets that are deaf can have a good quality of life. You’ll just need to adapt how you care for them to keep your pet safe as they navigate the world using their other senses.

1. Keep your pet safe outdoors

The outdoors can pose all kinds of safety risks for pets that are deaf, like not being able to hear traffic or respond to your verbal recall.

Never let a cat that’s deaf roam outside. Instead, train them to wear a harness and walk on a leash or buy or make them an enclosed catio so they can experience the outdoors safely.

For dogs that are deaf, always keep them on a leash when out for a walk and never let them off leash in an unenclosed area. If they’re in a fenced yard, you can teach them to notice you waving your arms to get their attention, or at night, you can use a flashlight or an outside light to signal them to come in.

To keep track of your pet, whether they’re inside or in an enclosed area outside, consider tying a bell or pet locator to their collar so you can find them. And, just in case they find their way outside unsupervised, be sure to update your pet’s microchip information and make sure they have an ID tag that says they’re deaf.

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2. Learn new ways to communicate or consider specialized training

Training a pet that can’t hear is possible — just use visual cues instead of verbal cues.

For cats, you can train them to respond to hand signals or the lights being turned off and on.

For dogs, you can train them to respond to hand signals, mark and reward training, or lights being turned off and on. Even if your dog can hear, training with hand signals can be helpful since dogs tend to pay more attention to what we do than what we say.

One important area to focus on for both cats and dogs is startle training. Since your pet can’t hear you approach, it’s easy for them to be startled, especially when they’re sleeping.

Startle training for pets that are deaf

When your cat is awake, always try to approach them so they see you coming. If they’re asleep, you can stomp your foot or tap near where they’re sleeping to wake them up before you touch them.

For dogs, you can also stomp your foot or tap near where they’re sleeping to wake them up. But you can also start desensitizing them by using positive reinforcement.

When they’re awake, starting from a place where they can see you, gently touch them on a spot, like their shoulder, and then offer a treat. Repeat a few times. Move just out of sight, gently touch them on the same spot, and give a treat. Repeat until they’re excited for your touch.

Then you can try while they’re asleep. First, just put your hand in front of your dog’s nose so the smell wakes them up and then give them a treat. Once they’re comfortable with that, you can try waking them by gently touching them (in the same spot you did when they were awake) and give a treat. Repeat.

3. Make time for play

dog that is deaf standing in kennel

All pets need enrichment, and there are plenty of ways to engage your pet’s other senses.

For cats, try teaser toys, toys filled with catnip, and food puzzles. For dogs, you can skip the squeaky toys and provide fetch, tug, food puzzles, and chew toys instead.

Dr. Kelly also recommends, “For dogs and cats alike, tactile activities that provide a sense of closeness and stimulate their senses, like brushing, petting, and cuddling, can be enjoyable, too.”

While caring for pets that are deaf requires some special considerations, it’s well worth the effort! These animals deserve their second chances and have just as much love to give.

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