Can deafness be inherited?
Deafness at birth (known as congenital deafness) is often inherited in some breeds. 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.
Testing for deafness
The BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) test is used to check the hearing of a dog. The test checks if the brain responds to noise (usually a clicking sound) and is a reliable way to see if a dog is deaf and to what extent. The test does not measure the full range of a dog's hearing, it only checks noises in the normal human range (some dogs will test as ‘deaf’ but can still hear very high-pitched noises).
Why test your dog?
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. Having dogs BAER tested is currently the best option for reduction of risk but it does not completely ensure the hearing of resulting puppies.
- 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
- Data generated from these tests would improve our understanding of the degree of inheritance and the familial relationships contributing to this disorder
Is BAER testing relevant to my breed?
Find out which health tests or schemes are recommended for your breed on our Breeds A to Z. These recommendations are suggested by breed clubs and approved by The Kennel Club's committees.
Which breeds are commonly affected?
Dogs with the extreme piebald gene
Congenital deafness is recognised as a problem in many dog breeds that mostly have a white coat (i.e. those that carry the extreme piebald gene). Such breeds include, but are not limited to:
- English Setters
- Border Collies
- Australian Shepherds
- White Boxers
- White 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 associated with merle dogs
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
- 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.
When should my dog be BAER tested?
The best age to test a litter is around 5½ to 6½ 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.
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.
Getting your dog tested
If you are having your dog or litter BAER tested, please take the BAER test report form with you to the testing centre.
Find a testing centre near you
Please note that not all of the testing centres listed below send copies of the results directly to The Kennel Club. Please check with the centre.
BAER test centres and contacts
- Hearing Assessment Clinic (Mobile), Seadown Veterinary Hospital
1 Frost Lane, Hythe, Hants
Contact: K Morris MRCVS, 02380 842237, Send an email
- Small Animal Hospital, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine University of Glasgow,
Bearsden Road, Glasgow, G61 1QH
Contact: Mrs Gillian Calvo (VN), 0141 330 5848, Send an email
- Wey Referrals,
125-129 Chertsey Road, Woking, Surrey, GU21 5BP
Contact: Ms Sue Fitzmaurice, 01483 729194, Send an email
- Chapel House Veterinary Practice
Hady Hill, Chesterfield, S41 0DZ
Contact: Dr Dinu Catilina, 07403451743, Send an email
- Slane Veterinary Clinic
3 Churchlands, County Meath, Ireland
Contact: Dr I Finney DVM MRCVS, Send an email
- Pride Veterinary Centre, Riverside Road, Derby, DE24 8HX
Contact: 01332 678333, Send an email
St George's Veterinary Group
8 St George's Parade,
Chipping Norton Veterinary Hospital
West Bar Vet Hospital
19 West Bar,
Milton Keynes Veterinary Group
Walnut Tree Hospital,
608 Warwick Road,
Woodlands Veterinary Clinic
Read further details about all of the above on the vet hearing service website.
BAER test results
- Affected – bilateral: the dog is completely deaf in both ears
- Affected – unilateral: the dog is completely deaf in one ear and able to hear normally in the other
- Unaffected: the dog has normal hearing in both ears
Unfortunately at the moment we don't know enough about congenital deafness to be able to offer any firm breeding advice. However, scientists at the Animal Health Trust believe that it may be possible to reduce the risk of producing deaf or bilaterally deaf puppies by only breeding from bilaterally normal hearing parents. This condition is inherited in a complex way, so it may still be possible for parents with normal hearing to produce affected puppies.
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.
Are BAER test results published?
The names and results of dogs registered with The Kennel Club 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 our Health Test Results Finder.
Requirements for publishing results
- All participating dogs will need to be registered with The Kennel Club 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
- Signature of the veterinary surgeon on the BAER certificate
- Owners are encouraged to submit copies of the certificates themselves, directly to The Kennel Club, if the testing centre does not automatically do so