A reader is considering adopting a deaf pet and asked my advice. I have seen many wonderful examples of happy families with a deaf pet, so I enthusiastically shared some!
Q: We’re considering adopting a pet who is deaf. Do you have any tips on safety and communication?
A: One of the things I love best about being a veterinarian is seeing the accommodations people make for pets with disabilities. Deafness is common in dogs and cats of any age. Some are born deaf, while others develop hearing loss as they age. The following tips can help you get your pet’s attention, communicate with her and keep her safe.
— Sign language. Both dogs and cats are good at learning hand signals and even American Sign Language. Hand signals include a raised hand for “stop,” a hand moving upward for “sit,” and a hand moving down and back for “down.” Give a thumbs-up, followed by a treat or other reward, when your pet does something you like. If you’re teaching ASL, your pet’s favorite words might be “dinner,” “walk,” “play” or “outside.”
— Visual signals. Keep a small flashlight at hand. If you need to get your pet’s attention, flash it in her direction (not in her eyes, please). She’ll learn that when she sees the flash, she should look for you. If you’re in front of her, you can wave your hand to get your pet’s attention, or use the universal signal of pointing two fingers at your eyes to indicate that she should look at you.
— Good vibrations. Animals are highly sensitive to vibrations. If you’re coming up behind her, stomp your foot (not right next to her) so she’ll know where you’re coming from. If she’s sleeping beneath a table or desk, you can tap the surface to get her attention.
Work with a positive-reinforcement trainer to teach your pet these cues. For more about deafness in cats, see this article.
There’s more – including an inside look at your pet’s (and your) sleep habits – in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.