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Are Puppies Born Deaf? Science-Based Facts & FAQ

Written by: Misty Layne

Last Updated on April 12, 2024 by Dogster Team

golden retriever puppy biting an arm

Are Puppies Born Deaf? Science-Based Facts & FAQ

Puppies come into our lives as tiny balls of energy that bring plenty of fun, so it only makes sense that we want to share in all their new experiences. But to do that, we need to know how newborn puppies perceive the world around them—how they see, smell, and hear things (or if they’re able to do those things at all when they’re first born). After all, puppy senses are quite different from our own, particularly when they’re newborns.

For instance, did you know that puppies are born deaf? In fact, most of their senses are fairly limited right after birth. But why is that? And how do these pups get around and decipher what’s happening around them?

divider-pawUnderstanding Puppy Senses

All pups are born deaf, and hearing is actually the last sense to develop fully. That means little ones can’t hear until they reach about 3 weeks of age. Of course, after they develop their hearing, your newest canines will be able to hear so much more than you do—around four times as much!

Then there’s sight. For the first couple of weeks of life, puppies can’t see what’s around them as their eyes only fully open after 14 to 21 days. When sight is fully developed, though, you’ll find that dogs don’t see the same range of colors as we do (though they aren’t necessarily colorblind, as is a popular theory), but they do see much better in the dark than us.

So, how do newborn pups sense the world around them if they can’t see or hear for the first 2–3 weeks of life? With their sense of smell! This is the one sense that is completely operational from the moment of birth and is how puppies can navigate the world around them. And that sense of smell is far superior to our own as it’s approximately 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive. How are dogs able to smell so many more things than us? Well, humans have around 6 million olfactory receptors in the nose that enable us to smell what’s around us. However, dogs have about 300 million!

black labrador retriever puppy
Image Credit: Ryu Orn, Unsplash

Why Puppies Are Born the Way They Are

Our canine friends are born deaf and blind, but why exactly is that? It doesn’t make sense that an animal would be born without senses completely developed, right? Well, you can find the answer to these questions in evolution.

When mammal species began to evolve, evolution had a choice to make—what way of reproduction and development would enable a species to best survive? A mammal could either have a longer pregnancy and deliver babies that were developed entirely, or it could have a shorter pregnancy and deliver babies that still had some developing to do. And for canines, the best option was the latter.

Why would a shorter pregnancy ensure better survival? Because canines in the wild were hunters, the shorter the pregnancy for a female, the quicker it could get back to helping the pack hunt. And because there were often several days of downtime between hunts, the female would still have plenty of time to take care of her babies. This ensures that newborn pups are taken care of and not left on their own often while also enabling them to have enough food, which equals better survival.

Congenital Deafness in Dogs

Unfortunately, some puppies never gain hearing after being born (or only gain hearing in a single ear). You’ve probably heard how all  (which is untrue; a good majority of them are, but not all) and that it has something to do with their coat color. Well, it’s the same for dogs. Dogs with white or merle coats are more likely to experience congenital deafness. But only a very tiny percentage are deaf in both ears.

This is box title
  • Australian Cattle dog (3.3% are deaf)
  • Dalmatian (7–8% are deaf)
  • English Cocker Spaniel (1.1% are deaf)
  • Bull Terrier (2% are deaf)
  • Border Collie (0.5% are deaf)
  • English Setter (1.4% are deaf)

Deaf dogs can have happy, fulfilling lives; you’ll just need to tweak your life a bit to accommodate that lack of hearing.

divider-pawFinal Thoughts

Puppies are born deaf (and blind) and are only able to use their sense of smell for the first 2–3 weeks of life. Though it seems odd that an animal would be born not completely developed, there’s a good reason for this—evolution! Back in the day, when canines roamed in wild packs, it made more sense for the species to have shorter pregnancies so they wouldn’t miss out on hunting and would still be able to take care of their babies.

If one of your puppies still doesn’t seem to be reacting to sounds by the time it’s 3 weeks old, it could be that it has congenital deafness. This doesn’t affect tons of dogs, but there are certain breeds and coat colors more likely to experience it. However, dogs that are deaf can lead as fulfilling lives as dogs with hearing. You’ll just need to make a few lifestyle changes to accommodate them!

Featured Image Credit: Damix, Shutterstock

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