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What is the cause of deafness in dogs?
Congenital deafness (deafness at birth) is often inherited in some breeds, i.e. due to abnormal genes. How this condition is inherited is not fully understood, but is believed to be controlled by many different genes, possibly with additional breed-specific risk factors.
Which breeds are more commonly affected by deafness?
Congenital deafness is recognised as a problem in many dog breeds that carry the extreme piebald gene, i.e. those with a mostly white coat. Such breeds include, but are not limited to: Dalmatians, English Setters, Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, white Boxers and white English Bull Terriers. It has been suggested that this could be due to a fault in the movement of pigment cells, or their interaction with other structures in the inner ear during embryo development. Unpigmented skin in the inner ear causes the nerve endings to break down and die in the first few weeks of a puppy’s life.
Deafness has also been reported to be associated with the gene that causes the merle coat colour (mottled patches of colour in a solid or piebald coat, blue or odd-coloured eyes, and also possible effects of skin pigment). Examples of breeds with the merle coat are Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Dappled Dachshunds or Old English Sheepdogs. Absence of pigment in one or both irises resulting in blue eye colouration may also be present in merle dogs. Blue iris colour is caused by a lack of pigment in the iris, and it is thought that this may reflect a lack of pigment cells in the inner ear and so may be linked to deafness. Deafness can also occur independently of coat colour, so can arise in dogs with coat colours not linked to deafness.
How can you test for deafness?
The BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) test is used to check the hearing of a dog by detecting the electrical activity of the brain in response to an auditory stimulus (usually a clicking noise), which is recorded and displayed on a computer screen. The test is a reliable way to determine whether a dog is deaf and also for measuring the extent of its hearing loss. However, the test does not measure the full range of canine hearing, only hearing in the normal human range (some dogs will test as ‘deaf’ but can still hear very high pitched noises).
If you are having your dog or litter BAER tested, please take the BAER test report form with you to the testing centre.
Is this test relevant to my breed?
Find out which health tests or schemes are recommended for your breed on the Kennel Club’s Breed Information Centre. These recommendations are suggested by breed clubs and approved by Kennel Club committees.
Are BAER test results published?
The names and results of Kennel Club registered dogs will be sent to the Kennel Club by participating BAER testing centres. These results, and the results submitted by owners of non-participating centres will be recorded on the Kennel Club database and will be made available, via the Kennel Club’s online health recourse, Mate Select.
Requirements for publishing results
- All participating dogs will need to be KC registered and microchipped (prior to screening)
- The microchip of individual dogs will be scanned prior to screening to verify that the correct dog is being screened
- Owners are encouraged to submit copies of the certificates themselves, directly to the Kennel Club, if the testing centre does not automatically do so
What do BAER test results mean?
Affected – Bilateral: the individual is completely deaf in both ears
Affected – Unilateral: the individual is completely deaf in one ear and able to hear normally in the other
Unaffected: the individual has normal hearing in both ears
When should your dog be BAER tested?
The best age to test a litter is around five and a half to six and a half weeks of age (ear canals don’t open until puppies are about 2 weeks old). The test can be carried out at any age after this, including on adult dogs; however, many breeders wish to know the hearing status of their pups before they go to their new homes. Also, at this age, puppies have an active period followed by a period of sleep, which is the perfect time to carry out the test.
Why should owners and breeders BAER test their dogs?
- Bilaterally deaf dogs can prove difficult to manage (e.g. training), and identifying this early allows for targeted training, improving the comfort and safety for both the dog and the owner
- Once owners find out the hearing status of their dog, they can develop appropriate communication and training techniques (e.g. exaggerated body language and sign signals)
- Deaf dogs are often put down due to decreased awareness of dangers (e.g. vehicles and animal predators) and possibly aggressiveness (easily startled) – if owners know the hearing status of their dog, they can take necessary precautions to prevent this
- Prevent the breeding of dogs that have a high probability of producing potentially deaf puppies – having dogs BAER tested is currently the best option for reduction of risk but does not completely ensure the hearing of resulting puppies
- Data generated from these tests would improve our understanding of the degree of inheritance and the familial relationships contributing to this disorder
Breeders are able to test their breeding stock for deafness before the dogs are bred from. Testing all potential breeding stock, where relevant, allows breeders to better understand the kind of genes a dog may pass on to its offspring, giving them information which may be useful to help avoid producing clinically affected puppies. Making informed decisions from health test results enables breeders to adapt their breeding programmes and reduce the risk of the diseases appearing in future generations.
Currently not enough is known about congenital deafness to be able to offer any firm breeding advice. However, scientists at the Animal Health Trust have suggested that it may be possible to reduce the risk of producing deaf or bilaterally deaf puppies by only breeding from bilaterally normal hearing parents.
Making balanced breeding decisions
As well as considering the implications of a dog’s BAER results, there are other equally important factors to consider when deciding whether two dogs should be mated together, such as temperament, genetic diversity, conformation, other available health test results, the general health of the dogs etc. Your breeding decisions should always be well balanced and take into consideration the qualities and compatibility of both the sire and dam that you are considering.
Can the results from BAER tests be used to accurately predict whether future puppies will be affected?
Deafness is a condition which is inherited in a complicated way not yet fully understood by scientists. Due to the complex nature of inheritance of deafness, it is still possible that affected offspring may arise from parents who have normal hearing. It is hoped that breeding appropriately from tested dogs will reduce the risk of producing affected offspring, but this is not a guarantee.
Where can you get your dog BAER tested?
BAER test centres and contacts:
- Small Animal Centre, Animal Health Trust. Lanwades Park, Newmarket, Suffolk CB8 7UU.
Contact: Ms Julia Freeman. Tel: 01638 552 700; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Animal Medical Centre, 511 Willbraham Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester M21 0UB Contact: Mr Pip Boydell. Tel: 0161 881 3329
- Hearing Assessment Clinic (Mobile), Seadown Veterinary Hospital, 1 Frost Lane, Hythe, Hants
Contact: K Morris MRCVS. Tel: 02380 842237; Email: email@example.com
- Church Farm Veterinary Clinic, Neston Road, Willaston, South Wirral, Liverpool CH64 2TL Contact: Mr G Skerritt. Tel: 0151 327 1885
- Small Animal Hospital, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine University of Glasgow, Bearsden Road, Glasgow, G61 1QH,
Contact: Mrs Gillian Calvo (VN). Tel : 0141 330 5848; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Wey Referrals, 125-129 Chertsey Road, Woking, Surrey, GU21 5BP.
Contact: Ms Sue Fitzmaurice. Tel: 01483 729194; Email: email@example.com
The following Veterinary practices can accommodate BAER Testing and are all carried out by Mr David Godfrey. Appointments must be made directly with him - firstname.lastname@example.org.
608 Veterinary Practice
58 Sheaf Road
B26 3HA Tel: 0121 705 3044
Blacks Veterinary Group
109A Pedmore Road
Brentknoll Veterinary Centre
Worcester WR5 2RA Tel: 01905 355938
Woodlands Veterinary Clinic
Cheltenham GL51 3GA Tel: 01242 255133
Further details about all of the above can be obtained by accessing www.vethearingservice.co.uk.
Please note that not all of the testing centres listed above send copies of the results directly to the Kennel Club. The testing centres that do send the results directly to the Kennel Club are written in green.