The signs of Tora’s deafness developed suddenly. One day in June, she stopped responding when Suzanne went out into the back garden to bring her inside. Tora had always been a very responsive dog. As soon as she heard the back door open, she’d rush to greet Suzanne: there was no need to call her name. But on this occasion, Suzanne found that she had to go looking for her. Even when she repeatedly called her name, Tora seemed to be ignoring her. At first, Suzanne thought that Tora might just be in a stubborn mood: she’s a strong willed dog who does exactly what she wants to do. If she was allowed off the leash on a walk, she would often refuse to come back: that was just the way she had always been. Maybe she had now decided that she wanted to stay out in the garden.
Suzanne continued to call Tora, and eventually she found her at the foot of the garden, facing the opposite direction. Suzanne approached her, still calling her name, and Tora wouldn’t even turn her head to acknowledge her. It was only when Suzanne reached out and touched Tora’s rear end that she spun around, and then she greeted Suzanne enthusiastically. Suzanne realised that there was only one possible explanation for this: she had gone deaf. She did a few more tests, clapping her hands when Tora was looking away, and even blowing a whistle to see if she reacted. There was no response at all. Tora had definitely gone completely deaf.
Suzanne presumed that the deafness was caused by old age: Tora was heading for twelve, and the usual life span of the breed is 12 to 15 years. Tora still seemed fit and healthy, but she was the equivalent of a human in their seventies or eighties. Perhaps it was no surprise that her hearing had faded.
To double check that there was nothing that could be done to help Tora, Suzanne brought her in to see me. I repeated the “clapping” and “whistling” tests, and sure enough, Tora did not react at all. Deafness in old age is common, but it usually happens gradually over many months: there was something odd about the way that it had come up on Tora so rapidly. I then used an otoscope to examine her ears in detail. If a dog has gone deaf because of old age, it’s possible to look right down to the ear drum. The changes causing deafness are linked to the internal hearing structures stiffening up and degenerating, and there’s nothing visible to indicate that this is happening.
When I lifted Tora’s ear flap to look inside her ear, I was surprised at what I found: her ear openings were almost completely closed. She had developed a nasty yeast infection in both ears, causing her ear canals to fill with thick wax and swelling. It was no wonder that she couldn’t hear anything. I started her on to a simple treatment: ointment and tablets to clear away the wax and infection, and to reduce the swelling.
Two weeks later, she came back for a check up. Her ears had returned to normal, and the good news from Suzanne was that her hearing had also returned. That morning, when Suzanne had gone out into the garden, Tora had rushed in from the bushes as soon as she heard the sound of the door.
Tora may be an older dog, but as the saying goes, “there’s life in the old dog yet”. She’s still fit and healthy, and her hearing is once again as good as it ever was.
- Deafness due to old age is common in dogs
- Loss of hearing usually happens gradually over months
- If your older dog is deaf, it’s worth asking your vet to check to see if there is any other cause that can be treated