One in five Dalmatians is born deaf. Another 80 dog breeds are known to have genetic-based deafness, and countless aging dogs suffer from hearing loss.
But, UC assistant professor Peter Scheifele, PhD, says audiology isn't taught in veterinary school.
So what are dogs and their owners to do?
Scheifele, who arrived at UC in September 2007 and has graced the pages of Dog World magazine for his interest in canine hearing, has come up with a plan for addressing the hearing needs of dogs and the questions of dog owners.
This month, Scheifele will open the doors to the region's-and perhaps the country's-only canine audiology clinic.
Located in the College of Allied Health Sciences' French East building, the clinic will provide audiology services to dogs and give students an opportunity to conduct baseline animal research.
UC's Bioacoustics and Canine Audiology Clinic will only see dogs brought in by concerned pet owners referred to UC by veterinarians.
Scheifele says the common way pet owners and veterinarians "test" for deafness in dogs is by making a loud noise or dropping large objects on the floor near the pet.
"Dogs, like people, are capable of feeling vibrations even when they can't hear sounds," says Scheifele. "Making loud noises or dropping heavy objects aren't foolproof ways to check for hearing loss in pets."
To determine the level of hearing loss in dogs, Scheifele's team will use a number of tests commonly used in humans that have been modified to accommodate the canine hearing range.
"The things we employ to test infant hearing can be used to test hearing in an animal," says Scheifele, who also has serious interest in the ears of whales, dolphins, horses and ferrets.
Clinic staff will test the cochlea (the hearing organ) as well as the brain's response to sound and will use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to see inside dogs' ears and provide thorough hearing loss assessments to owners and veterinarians.
But Scheifele says the work he's doing isn't just about the animal.
"At UC, we're training audiologists, but by adding this clinic, we're providing a service to dogs and dog owners and also giving our students research opportunities that they didn't have before," says Scheifele.
Research at UC's canine audiology clinic will be noninvasive, Scheifele points out. The students and faculty will gather data about the dogs they see to determine what degree of hearing loss is normal in aged dogs and to establish best practices for treating canine hearing loss.
They also believe the data they collect could translate to humans and to the development of advanced hearing screening equipment, according to Scheifele.
"We have a faculty member here with a strong interest in how people respond to hearing loss in loved ones," says Scheifele. "How someone reacts to their grandmother's hearing changes isn't all that different from how they react to a pet who can no longer hear. We want to provide people with tools for coexisting with anyone-pet or family member-who is dealing with hearing loss."
A retired member of the U.S. Navy, Scheifele, who also has long studied whale acoustics, says the ultimate goal for a clinic such as the one he's developed at UC is to change the way we think about hearing loss in animals.
"Right now, there's really no data about canine hearing loss, yet many dogs and families are dealing with this issue," says Scheifele. "In addition, hearing screening is paramount for assistance, military and police dogs. I hope that the knowledge we gain will lead to the creation of an audiology subspecialty in veterinary medicine so that more animals can be diagnosed and treated at their vet's office."
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