Congenital Deafness in Dogs

  • By: Mick Whitefield
  • Time to read: 6 min.

Congenital Deafness in dogs is when they are born with deafness or most commonly, suffer a degeneration of the inner ear structure within the first few weeks after birth. This gives an impairment to their hearing in either one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral). It is generally caused by a genetic fault although it can be the result of viral damage caused during the pregnancy before the puppy is born. This condition is usually associated with dogs that have merle or piebald genes, but is also associated with dogs that have white coats and blue eyes. 

How Congenital Deafness Develops

Typically this condition develops within the first weeks of a puppy being born at which stage their ear canals are still closed. The much needed blood supply to the cochlea is negatively impacted resulting in nerve cells in the cochlea dying off causing permanent deafness.

Deafness in a dog is not a life-threatening disorder like some conditions such as renal disorders. It may not even be as painful as hip dysplasia, but deafness puts your pet at risk from several hidden dangers. Deaf animals are at risk from motor vehicles or in the wild, predators.

Deafness at birth can be congenital or from viral damage to the unborn puppy. A gene defect mostly causes inherited hearing disorders. The defect can be autosomal dominant, autosomal recessive, mitochondrial, sex-linked, or multiple genes-related. 

Congenital deafness is generally seen in dogs with the merle or piebald color genes. It’s also associated with a white coat and blue eyes. The condition can impair hearing in one or both ears. 

Merle Australian Shepherd Dog
Australian Shepherd dog in Merle coloration

Causes of Congenital Deafness in Dogs

The most common causes of congenital deafness in dogs are dead nerve cells of the cochlea and a permanently closed ear canal. This defect may be linked to one or more recessive, defective genes inherited from the parents.

Inner Ear Diagram
Lack of Blood supply to the Cochlea and the Canal during the first few weeks of life can cause deafness
Inner Ear In Dogs

Deafness at birth may also be caused by developmental defects in the ear’s physiological apparatus and usually occurs in the first few weeks of fetal life or when the puppy is very young (below three weeks), you may not even know he has a hearing disorder.

White coats, piebald, and merle colors are mostly associated with deafness at birth in dogs. The lack of pigment deficiency around the head appears to hinder pigment cell growth in the dog’s inner ear. Sometimes, they may be lacking entirely. This causes the death of the nerve cells that are essential for hearing. 

Australian Shepherd Dog Merle With Blue Eyes

Commonly affected dog breeds include the Dalmatian, Australian Heeler, Bull Terrier, Catahoula, Boston Terrier, English Cocker Spaniel, and Parson Russell Terrier. Oddly, some solid white dogs like the Spitz have no deafness problems.

Congenital deafness in dogs has been noted in over 80 different breeds – Scroll to the Bottom of this post.

Because may deaf puppies get put down, it becomes essential to identify dogs affected by hereditary deafness and remove them from the breeding pool.

Diagnosing Deafness in Dogs

Diagnosis of deafness in dogs requires careful observation of how he responds to sound. Examples include failure of noise to awaken him when he is sleeping or the dog failing to recognize or respond to a sound. Other signs of deafness include unusual behavior like confusion when verbal commands are given, unusual voice, excessive barking, hyperactivity, and lack of ear movement. 

In young puppies being reared together, it may be more challenging to detect deafness as the puppy under study may is likely to be aping the reactions of the others. When observed individually after an age when reactions to sound are more predictable (3-4 weeks), detecting deafness may be possible. 

The response to smell, touch, and visible objects must be differentiated from the response exhibited to sound. Because genetic tests for congenital deafness in dogs are not available, the best hearing test for animals is BAER.

Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER) tests form an essential component of responsible breeding in animal breeds at high risk for congenital deafness. 

Although it involves a referral to a speciality vet practice, performing a Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response test is relatively simple. The patient animal “listens” for a click sound heard through special foam inserts placed in both ears. The results are picked by tiny electrodes inserted just under the scalp in electrical activity in the brain and auditory nerves. A relatively flat line indicates deafness in either ear. 

Treatment of Congenital Deafness 

In white coats, merle colors, and piebald dogs, the un-pigmented skin in the dog’s inner ear causes atrophy in the nerve endings, and they die in the first few weeks of a dog’s life (weeks 1-3). That causes hearing impairment. Hereditary deafness has no treatment.

In some cases, however, it can be prevented by not giving your pregnant dog any medication and getting regular check-ups. Congenital deafness in dogs may be eliminated by removing identifiable carriers of the condition from the breeding program. 

At-risk dog breeds should undergo the BAER test before joining the breeding program, and only those with two “good” ears should be included.

Caring and Living with a Deaf Dog

If your four legged buddy is deaf, there are several things you can do in terms of training and communication that will help your dog live a near-normal life. Deaf dogs don’t experience physical discomfort or pain due to hearing impairment. They do, however, need to have a caring, dedicated, and understanding owner. 

Caring for a dog that is deaf in both ears may require more dedication from you. Training a hearing-impaired dog using hand signals must always be consistent to avoid confusing the pet. Such a dog is more likely to be easily startled, which could lead to biting. Deaf dogs may, therefore, not be suitable if you have young children as they may scare easily . ith the rapid child movements.

Deaf dogs will also require protection from certain physical dangers, such as passing motor vehicles and strange dogs. A deaf pet should always be on a leash when in an unenclosed area. It would help if you also were willing to learn a new way of communicating with your deaf dog. For example, you can use a vibrating collar to train your dog, or both of you can take training classes to learn hand signals.

With positive training, patience, and proper knowledge, owning a deaf dog need not be a challenge. It can be a rewarding experience as most dogs with hearing impairment cope well with their unique disability and are very trainable. When handled and trained well, they can even take part in dog sports.

Bottom line, dogs experiencing congenital deafness are not very different from any other hearing dogs. They interact with other dogs, people and they bark. They adapt well to their surroundings. All they need is help and understanding from you so that you can adapt to their situation for a fruitful relationship.

Breeds known to have problems with Congenital Deafness in Alphabetical order.

American bulldog
American-Canadian shepherd
American Eskimo
American Staffordshire terrier
Australian cattle dog
Australian shepherd

Bichon Frise
Border collie
Boston terrier
Bull terrier

Cardigan Welsh Corgi
Catahoula leopard dog
Cavalier King Charles spaniel
Chinese crested
Chow chow
Cocker spaniel
Coton de Tulear

Dappled dachshund
Doberman pinscher
Dogo Argentino

English bulldog
English cocker spaniel
English setter

Fox terrier
French bulldog

German shepherd
Great Dane
Great Pyrenees


Ibizan hound
Italian greyhound

Jack Russell terrier


Labrador retriever

Miniature pinscher
Miniature poodle

Norwegian dunkerhound
Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever

Old English sheepdog

Perro de Carea Leonés
Pit bull terrier
Presa Canario

Rhodesian ridgeback
Rat terrier

Saint Bernard
Scottish terrier
Sealyham Terrier
Shetland sheepdog
Shih Tzû
Shropshire terrier
Siberian husky
Soft coated Wheaten terrier
Springer spaniel
Sussex spaniel

Tibetan spaniel
Tibetan terrier
Toy fox terrier
Toy poodle

Walker American foxhound
West Highland white terrier

Yorkshire terrier

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