When you call your dog, does he or she come? If not, your dog may be ignoring you…or there could be another problem that might require a visit to an animal audiologist.
According to renowned animal audiologist Dr. Pete Scheifele, animal audiology is the study of determining hearing thresholds and assessing hearing loss and hearing management in non-human animals. But don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of it—it’s a pretty uncommon field.
“Animal audiology is really in its infancy, and most people in the field are veterinarians who specialize in neurology,” said Dr. Samantha Cohen, a PA-licensed audiologist and certified animal audiologist. In fact, as far as Cohen knows, she is currently the only audiologist in the state who is certified in animal audiology.
A resident of Franklin Park, Cohen had been an audiologist working with humans for over 20 years when she learned of animal audiology. Since she has worked in neurophysiology testing with humans and is an animal lover, animal audiology was a way to combine the two interests.
“It’s a neat way to apply our audiology skills and experience to animals,” she said.
Animal audiology certification is currently offered in only three locations—the University of Cincinnati, the University of Northern Colorado, and the University of Akron. The programming is done in what is known as a FETCHLAB, which is the acronym for Facility for Education and Testing of Canine Hearing & Laboratory for Animal Bioacoustics. Cohen received her certification from the University of Northern Colorado in October 2021.
While it might seem unusual to test a dog’s hearing, there are a variety of reasons to do so.
“The OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) requires specific canine breeders to obtain a BAER test,” Cohen explained, referring to the testing she uses to check an animal’s hearing. “There are certain breeds that are prone to genetic hearing issues such as Dalmatians, which are the number one breed.”
In fact, according to the University of Cincinnati, 80 dog breeds are susceptible to genetically related hearing loss and deafness. Additionally, white haired/blue eyed and merle breeds of both dogs and horses are also more prone to hearing loss and deafness.
Pet owners may want to have their dogs tested if they think that there may be hearing loss.
“Just like someone may suspect that their mom might be having hearing loss, we may suspect that our dog does, but a dog can’t communicate with us like a human,” said Cohen.
Hearing loss in dogs can be caused by a variety of reasons including the aging process, noise exposure, certain types of medication and illness or injury.
To determine hearing loss, practitioners such as Cohen will use BAER testing, Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response. “The BAER is a test that evaluates the neurologic function of the hearing system,” Cohen said.
If hearing loss is detected, pet owners can use this knowledge to better understand and work with their pets.
“There are numerous resources to help pet owners that can ensure their pets’ safety and help them understand their behavior,” said Cohen.
Various training techniques, including sign language, can be utilized to help work with hearing-impaired dogs. Hearing tests can also provide information to help ensure that hearing loss is not bred into future generations.
Research on hearing loss in animals also provides valuable information for audiological safety for dogs. “We need to worry about dogs just as we worry about certain noise exposure for humans,” said Cohen.
While she still works with humans, Cohen has founded Pittsburgh Animal Audiology Services, LLC, providing mobile BAER testing for dogs and horses. Horses are tested for hearing loss for many of the same reasons as dogs.
Cohen is currently in the process of working with BelaCoop Animal Hospital and networking with other organizations such as Suburban K9 Training to help increase awareness and build a foundation of resources for pet owners. For more information, visit https://pittsburghanimalaudiology.com.
Pittsburgh Animal Audiology Services can also be found on Facebook or reached by calling 412-951-6383.