Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Cannot Hear, Seems Deaf

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

  • If the horse seems not quite right, or eating less than normal in addition to this sign.

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

  • If this is the only sign and the horse seems normal otherwise.
  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

Deafness in horses may be more common than previously assumed, and can result from a variety of causes including inner or middle ear infections, old age, trauma, certain drugs and temporohyoid osteoarthropathy.

Congenital deafness often occurs in horses with white faces and blue (or partially blue) eyes, typically of the American Paint and Pinto breeds. This is thought to result from the lack of pigment in the elements of the inner ear.

WHAT TO DO

You can try to assess your horse’s hearing yourself with a simple exercise (see related skill “Assess Hearing, Startle Test”). However, confirmation of your hunch should be made by your vet or your nearest equine veterinary hospital.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Your vet can perform a clinical exam and may be able to perform a Brainstem Auditory-Evoked Response (BAER) test, which detects electrical activity in the cochlea (inner ear) and examines the brain wave patterns that change in response to noise. Horses that are completely deaf exhibit a flatline response to the BAER test.

If your horse is diagnosed with partial or total deafness, talk to your vet about changing your horse’s management and your expectations. You can modify your training routine to use more visual cues. You should try to ensure that your horse isn’t startled by surprises that other horses can hear and anticipate.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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