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 it and keep it safe.
• Sign language. Both dogs and cats are good at learning hand signals and even American Sign Language (ASL). 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 its direction, but not in its eyes. Your pet will learn that when it sees the flash, it should look for you. If you're in front of your pet, you can wave your hand to get its attention, or use the universal signal of pointing two fingers at your eyes to indicate that it should look at you.
• Good vibrations. Animals are highly sensitive to vibrations. If you're coming up behind, tap your foot so your pet will know where you're coming from. If it's sleeping beneath a table or desk, you can tap the surface to get its attention.
Consider working with a positive-reinforcement trainer to teach your pet these cues.
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.