151st ASA Meeting, Providence, RI

A Better Hearing Test for Dogs

Peter M. Scheifele - peter.scheifele@uconn.edu
Animal & Communication Sciences Departments
University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT 06269

Frank E. Musiek, Michael Darre and Michelle G. Pinto
University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT 06269

John Preece
CUNY-The Graduate Center
New York, NY 10016

Popular version of paper 3pAB4
Presented Wednesday afternoon, June 7, 2006
151st ASA Meeting, Providence, RI

Deafness is not an uncommon problem for dogs. Congenital deafness has been reported for approximately 80 breeds, with the list growing at a regular rate it can virtually appear in any breed. For the person seeking to buy or adopt a pet, failing to check for deafness can cause unexpected hardships and may ultimately end the relationship. Deafness can occur through two processes. Sometimes dogs have congenital deafness, meaning they are born deaf, or deafness develops within a month after birth. Other dogs develop deafness (called acquired deafness) at any time later in life. This can occur through the use of drugs, particularly some antibiotics, or from noise trauma, ear infections and age-related hearing loss. The current common way that most veterinarians test for deafness is behaviorally, by making a loud noise and then observing the dog's behavior.

A better way to test hearing is to perform an Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) in conjunction with an Otoacoustic Emission test (OAE). An ABR is an objective and quantitative test that measures the electrical signal produced by the brain in response to sound stimuli through the synchronized firing of nerve cells in the auditory nerve and brainstem. Instead of being determined by behavior, the ABR is an efficient, objective, and quantitative way to determine if there is a complete or partial hearing loss in a dog. The ABR is regularly performed in humans to assess hearing function and to predict or identify other medical issues related to neural and/or ear function and would be a valuable tool to use in canines as well. However, there are presently no established "ABR norms" (typical readings for the "normal" animal of good hearing and ear health) available for canines.

For this study 3 dogs were repetitiously studied to enable us to show that the procedure is stable and can be repeated reliably. In our clinic we have tested up to 10 dogs and have 20 more currently scheduled for the fall. "Repeatability" of ABR waveforms with similar features is critical to the establishment of "norms" for any species and for bringing this technique into routine clinical practice. It is our goal, at the University of Connecticut, to begin to train "animal audiologists" who we hope in the future will support veterinarians as a specialty in the same manner as human audiologists currently assist ear-nose-throat (ENT) physicians.

It is very important to be able to accurately determine if there is a complete or partial deafness because there is a greater likelihood of death from being hit by cars because of the inability to hear the vehicles coming. Dogs who cannot hear can be more prone to injuries, since they cannot hear commands or objects coming towards them. There are also behavioral concerns. A deaf dog can startle easily when asleep and this can cause aggression and fear. This research is very significant in that its outcome is being used to more efficiently determine if there is a hearing loss in dogs and will allow us to improve the quality of living of deaf dogs and their owners.

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