Deafness, either partial or complete, is surprisingly common in cats and dogs, impacting approximately 17-20% of the former (Journal of Feline Medicine) and 5-10% of the latter (American Kennel Club). As one might expect, congenital deafness is more prevalent in some breeds than in others — for instance, 65% of white cats with two blue eyes suffer from hearing loss, and 40% with one blue eye. 

Whether you suspect your pet may have developed hearing loss or you're thinking of adopting a pet you know is hearing-impaired, there are a few general pieces of advice that applies to their care.

Do: Study the Signs of Hearing Impairment

We can't always predict when one of our pets will suffer from hearing loss. In some cases, the shelter they're adopted from misdiagnoses them (or doesn't bother to diagnose them at all). In others, illness, injury, or age might lead to hearing impairment. 

It's therefore essential to recognize the major flags of hearing impairment — not in the least because they can also be markers for other, more serious conditions, such as ear mites or an inner ear infection. 

According to nonprofit Cats Protection, signs of deafness in cats include

  • Being unconcerned about loud noises, like those emitted by a washing machine or vacuum cleaner. 
  • Startling more easily than expected. 
  • Dizziness, disorientation, or balance issues.
  • Excessive shaking of head or clawing at the ears. 
  • Discharge or a foul odor emanating from the ear. 
  • Failing to respond when called or spoken to. 
  • An apparent inability to control the pitch or volume of their meows. 

Per the Forever Vets Animal Hospital, signs of deafness in dogs include

  • Suddenly ignoring or disobeying verbal commands. 
  • Increased startle reflex. 
  • Excessive barking
  • Failure to respond to everyday sounds.
  • Increased apathy.
  • Tilting or shaking of the head. 

Don't: Make a Snap Diagnosis

Remember that just as you cannot diagnose hearing impairment in yourself, you are not a veterinarian. You cannot — and should not — independently diagnose your pet's hearing loss. If you suspect they may be hearing impaired, your next step is to bring them in for an examination.

At the minimum, you'll want a hearing test done and possibly a neurological assessment. However, you may also want to have them examined for possible illness or disease. 

Do: Be Patient

Remember that your pet has special needs. Especially if their hearing loss isn't congenital, there's going to be an adjustment period. They might be disobedient, especially clingy, or destructive. 

Have patience. Don't punish them for things that are beyond their understanding or control. 

Don't: Make a Commitment You Aren't Ready For

As you might expect, caring for a hearing-impaired animal is a considerable commitment, much more so than adopting a pet with healthy hearing. Make sure you're absolutely prepared to put in the necessary time and effort to care for your pet's needs and provide them with a fully loving and supportive environment. And if you aren't sure you can, don't adopt. 

Especially if your pet has suffered from past abuse or trauma, rehoming can be an incredibly damaging experience for them. If you aren't certain you can provide them with their forever home, let them be adopted by someone who can. 

Do: Adjust How You Communicate

Because hearing-impaired pets have greater difficulty responding to and understanding verbal commands, you're going to need to change up your communication. Instead of using spoken words, start relying on visual cues such as hand movements, flashing lights, and so on. It's important that you also take great pains not to startle your pet.

Avoid waking them up unless absolutely necessary, and take care to move in a way that ensures they're always aware when you approach. 

Don't: Think Your Pet Needs To Be "Cured"

In many cases, hearing loss in pets can be treated. But this isn't always the case. If your cat or dog is suffering from congenital or irreversible hearing loss, don't treat them as though they're defective — don't subscribe to the belief that there's something wrong with them. 

They're just like any other pet; they simply experience the world a little differently.