Why Are Some White-Coated Dogs Deaf?

Deafness is common among dogs who are white, even though those two traits sound completely unrelated. So why is this?

Cells are the weird building blocks of life.

White-coated dogs carry the piebald gene. The piebald gene is a result of the absence of melanocytes, which are the cells that create pigment. Melanocytes are responsible for determining the dog's hair and eye color. Being born without these melanocytes often yields a white coat and sometimes blue eyes.

Why is there a high rate of deafness in white dogs?
credit: Cuteness

Missing melanocytes is where hearing comes into play. The ability to hear is due to a specialized layer of cells within the inner ear. This special layer of cells comes from the same stem cell source as melanocytes (the cells that determine hair and eye color).

Without these stem cells, a dog's body will be unable to make the specialized layer of cells that allows them to hear. They will also, most likely, be white in color.

Deafness also affects other dogs.

White dogs aren't the only ones with a high rate of deafness. Some breeds that are merle or gray in color are more commonly deaf than the general dog population. The same goes for Dalmatians. It's estimated that 15-30 percent of Dalmatians are affected by hearing loss, and that 5 percent are bilaterally deaf, meaning deaf in both ears.

Dalmatian Dog
credit: David Baileys/iStock/GettyImages

Life with a Deaf Dog

Deaf dogs are just as awesome as hearing dogs (arguably more so). Deaf dogs are highly trainable and make great companions — they just require some different training methods than hearing dogs do.

If you suspect that your dog is deaf or losing their hearing, take them to a vet to have their hearing tested. If your dog is experiencing hearing loss, there are many training resources, including the American Kennel Club's guide to training deaf dogs. Training deaf or hard of hearing dogs involves using visual cues, and can be very effective.

Do you have any deaf dogs in your life?