Collaborative Research Results In More Cost Effective, Less Invasive Hearing Test For Canines

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The UTHSC Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology and the UT College of Veterinary Medicine collaborated to find a more cost effective and less invasive method to test hearing in canines using otoacoustic emissions. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology)

Collaborative research between the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology and the UT College of Veterinary Medicine has led to a discovery of a more cost effective and less invasive way to test hearing in puppies.

Ashley Harkrider, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology, and Erin Plyler, AuD, clinical associate professor in the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology, partnered with UT College of Veterinary Medicine’s Mickey Sims, PhD, MS, and Karen McLucas, LVMT, to test the hearing of puppies using otoacoustic emissions (OAEs) and brainstem auditory evoked responses (BAERs).

“There aren’t too many amplification options (hearing aids) available to our canine patients with hearing loss,” said Dr. Harkrider, who spent time working with the College of Veterinary Medicine while a graduate assistant. “However, knowledge is power, and once a dog is identified with hearing loss, owners will be less likely to characterize their dog as stubborn, dumb, or inattentive to their verbal cues. Dogs are smart, and most can be taught hand signal commands as a more optimal communication method.”

The study explored unanswered questions from a thesis Dr. Plyler, completed during her master’s degree program in audiology in which she partnered with Drs. Sims and Jim Thelin, both emeritus faculty of the UT College of Veterinary Medicine and the UT Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology, respectively, to investigate various characteristics found in the hearing of cats.

The results from the current research showed that very similar answers can be derived when testing the hearing of canines using either the OAEs or the BAERs method. Economically OEAs testing far outweighs the costs of BAERs testing. Traditional BAER units cost from $20,000 to $60,000, compared to handheld OAEs systems, which cost around $5,000.

Beyond cost, OEAs testing has other benefits, including a shorter test time, which means that it may not be necessary to sedate the puppy or dog. It is also less invasive, using only a soft foam tip inserted into the ear canal, rather than needle electrodes inserted under the scalp. This would allow pet owners to test their dog’s hearing at a community veterinarian instead of a major veterinary hospital, due to the lower cost associated with the equipment and the certifications required to perform the tests.

“Interdisciplinary research leads to better clinical practice regardless of the species of patient,” said Dr. Harkrider. “If more veterinarians are made aware of the fact that OAEs testing is just as effective as and definitely more accessible than BAERs testing, they may be more likely to offer it in their clinics, filling a need for dog owners in just about every community.”