How to Care for Your Deaf Bull Terrier

Updated on July 1, 2019
Jana Louise Smit profile image

As an animal welfare worker, Jana worked with Bull Terriers. She had a boarding home for the breed and currently owns a perky specimen.


Why the Breed Is Vulnerable

It's pretty well-known that white animals have an increased propensity for deafness. Bull Terriers, however, have ancestral deafness—they were not even bullies yet and the problem was already there. Way back in the day around the 1800s, a now-extinct breed became the forerunner of several popular dogs today, including the Jack Russell, Bull Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Called the English White Terrier, the animal was prized for its beautiful porcelain coat. However, increased inbreeding lead to genetic problems such as frailty and rampant deafness spread through litters. The English White Terrier died out but not the problem. When the Bull Terrier rose as a breed, it retained its ancestor's lovely white coat (the other colours developed later). Sadly, they also kept the higher chance of being born deaf.

Is This a White Thing?

Among several misconceptions that cling to this topic is the belief that only white Bull Terriers suffer from hearing loss. Truth be told, the condition affects an estimated eighteen to twenty percent of all bullies, no matter their colour. But there is a smattering of truth. White specimens are more prone to full deafness and the coloured bullies often lose hearing in one ear. This is not a hard rule. Full hearing loss can show up in any dog. A veterinarian can perform tests on a puppy to determine the degree of deafness in each ear.

The White English Terrier

A beautiful example of the Bull Terrier's extinct forerunner, already showing the white coat, muscled body and erect ears.
A beautiful example of the Bull Terrier's extinct forerunner, already showing the white coat, muscled body and erect ears. | Source

Consider Adoption

It is a sad fact that there are people out there who would euthanize a Bull Terrier, even a puppy, plainly because it's got deaf genes. All value such a dog has to them is its ability to breed and make money. Nobody will buy puppies if one parent cannot hear or if a breeder becomes known for selling deaf pups. A lot of affected puppies just 'disappear'. The lucky ones end up being handed over to vet clinics and animals shelters. If deafness isn't an issue in your household, consider giving your name to vets, shelters and rescue organisations, so they can place you on a waiting list should somebody hand over a bullie with special needs.

Living With a Deaf Dog

Many owners, when acquiring a deaf dog for the first time, expect more effort than a normal pet. Often, they are pleasantly surprised when both they and the dog adapt quite soon to the situation. Each case is a little different but deafness is not like an illness where special medication, therapy and progressive deterioration worsens the dog's life. Some Bull Terriers might lose their hearing over time but this doesn't affect their health. With the best of them, a deaf bullie can eat your favourite carpet, zoom about the garden and enjoy being an affectionate disaster (their specialty). That being said, they do need a few things hearing dogs don't.

1. Avoid the Startle Factor

This goes without saying: A deaf dog cannot hear somebody approach. When it is fully absorbed in an activity, especially a trigger zone such as eating, a sudden touch might upset the dog. A deaf animal must first become aware of your presence before touch. When your bullie is awake, step into its field of vision and then approach. If, for some reason, you need to wake your sleeping deaf dog, lightly bounce the bed. Any children in the house should be taught how to properly deal with any dog, not just a deaf bullie. Teaching kids to respect dogs that eat, sleep and don't want to play is paramount. A deaf Bull Terrier that was adopted as an adult needs enough time to adjust and often, once they feel safe with their new family, the startle factor might fade.

2. Identify the Dangers

Have a look around your home. The dangers may not be immediately obvious but a hearing-impaired dog faces special threats. They'll fail to detect an approaching car and not just on a nearby road. Anyone who drives into the yard without checking for dogs can cause an accident. It's not enough to assume that Butch will see the car. Bull Terriers get engrossed in mischief and appreciate the occasional sudden sprint. Not the best pair of traits to shine approaching headlights on. Along the same lines, they won't hear a door in time to avoid it hitting them as it swings open. Neither will they wake up when kids or other pets happen to run in its direction when napping.

3. Bullie Sign Language

A deaf dog is a hundred percent trainable. Hearing dogs respond well to hand signals and so can a deaf bullie. Signs such as 'stay', 'down' and 'come' are particularly useful, especially when you are trying to get your pet away from a dangerous situation. Amazingly, you might even find that a unique sign language develops. Depending on the daily routine, needs and habits of both, a deaf dog and its owner develop their own way to communicate with visuals and touch.

Be the Dog's Ears

When going outside of the home, a deaf bullie usually has no problems, but you still need to be its ears
When going outside of the home, a deaf bullie usually has no problems, but you still need to be its ears | Source

4. Outside the Home

Bullies love to walk and explore, see new things and follow their noses. If your deaf pet must walk off its lead, make sure the area is contained and safe. During a walk, view yourself as his or her service person, ready to provide direction and safety; look out for other dogs, cars and other dangers. Sometimes, your bullie must meet strangers outside of the home; a vet visit or perhaps you are approached by a bullie fan during a walk. Depending on the dog's temperament, contact should be limited or avoided. But what if it's a vet? Usually, deafness comes secondary to whatever ails the animal and again, whether it's friendly or not. There's no reason why deafness should be an issue when the dog engages with other people. However, if he or she startles easily, inform the person beforehand.

Strongly Consider Sterilization

There is no good reason why a deaf Bull Terrier should breed, even accidentally. Besides preventing the spread of deafness, sterilization has great benefits. When females are spayed, their chance of developing mammary cancer decreases dramatically. The risk for this type of cancer grows with each heat. A sterilized bitch will never develop another common and deadly problem—pyometra. This condition usually follows a heat, when the womb is more likely to be infected by pathogens. Pyometra doesn't go away, it can only be stopped through an emergency spay. Male dogs' emotions might settle more after being neutered, and they'll also avoid gender-specific cancer.

They're Not That Different

At the end of the day, with a few boundaries and wakeful moments, these Bull Terriers are identical to their hearing cousins. Their condition is unlikely to disrupt your lifestyle any more than another bullie would. If they are otherwise healthy, you can expect up to fifteen years with a dog that's your personal clown, shoe killer and hot water bottle at night.

© 2018 Jana Louise Smit


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    • shelley Hernandez profile image

      So out names are Shelley and Zimba 

      2 years ago from Lisbon

      Takes a person with true heart to care for a pet with special needs thank for your special gift of love and compassion


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