Deafness in Boston Terriers

Like many other breeds with large amounts of white on the body, congenital deafness occurs in Boston Terriers. All breeds can develop deafness in their senior years or as a result of disease or injury but in some breeds, including Bostons, puppies are born deaf or become deaf shortly after birth. They can be deaf in one or both ears.

Unilaterally deaf Bostons are only deaf in one ear. The fact that they are deaf in one ear is very difficult to detect and most appear absolutely normal other than when their hearing is tested through BAER testing. They make excellent pets but should not be bred. Bilaterally deaf Bostons are deaf in both ears. They are usually unresponsive to noise, don’t know their name, etc. Although it may not always be apparent in a group of puppies that one is completely deaf, on their own it soon becomes quite obvious. Deaf puppies can be trained using sign language and develop into good pets although more work is required and you need to take care that the dog is not startled.

What Makes Them Deaf?

In most cases it is related to the amount of white on the body. The Boston Terrier Club of America recommends not breeding dogs with white on more than a third of their body. White hair results in a lack of pigment cells reaching parts of the body. Dogs with lots of white on their head or body may be less likely to have pigment cells reach the inner ear hairs on the cochlea. Without pigment cells, these hairs die. Because the hairs are necessary for hearing, a dog whose hairs have died cannot hear in that ear. This occurs in a number of breeds with lots of white on the head and body including Dalmatians and English Setters. However, some Bostons that do not have a lot of white on their head or body are still occasionally found to be deaf for reason unknown.

BAER Testing

The Baer test evaluates hearing in each ear of a dog. It is painless and your dog does not have to sedated to conduct the test. He can sit on your lap in comfort as the tiny electrodes are attached to the head. It is not painful and can be done on puppies as young as seven weeks of age. A BAER test can tell if a dog has full hearing in both ears, is unilaterally deaf, or bilaterally deaf. Responsible breeders will test puppies before they go to their new homes and should be able to provide you with a certificate indicating the test results for your pup. The test only needs to be conducted once during a dog’s lifetime. If the deafness is congenital the test results will not change.

Breeding

All dogs being used in a breeding program should be BAER tested before being bred if they were not tested as puppies. Dogs that are deaf in only one ear can still produce a higher percentage of deaf puppies and should not be bred. Because pigment is linked to deafness, dogs that have a lot of white on their head or body should also not be bred even if they have full hearing in both ears.

Caring for a Deaf Dog

Unilaterally deaf dogs require no special care. You will not notice a difference between them and a dog with normal hearing. A bilaterally deaf dog is a different story. The dog is easily startled because they cannot hear people or anything else coming their way. Care needs to be taken to avoid startling them since some dogs snap in panic when startled. They can be taught sign language commands in a manner not dissimilar to how you teach verbal commands to a normal hearing Boston Terrier. A fully deaf dog can live a long and fairly normal life provided that care is taken to handle his environment and he is taught commands and trained just as any other dog. It is more difficult and it does take more patience but it is possible.