Have you ever wondered about how animals cope with hearing loss? As you might expect, hearing assistive options for animals are fairly uncommon. But efforts to provide audiology services to dogs have been ongoing for many years.
Back in the 80s, Texas A&M University founded a hearing evaluation center for hard-of-hearing dogs. If a test indicated that hearing loss was the result of bone damage, owners could elect to purchase their dogs an inexpensive hearing aid, created by Auburn University. These kinds of aids increased volume but did not distinguish clarity to a considerable degree.
In 2009, Peter Scheifele of the University of Cincinnati and the director of the school’s Bioacoustics and Canine Audiology Clinic, announced his development of a new hearing aid for dogs. According to Scheifele, the hard-of-hearing dog first testing the device “would seek it out and nudge it when he wasn’t wearing it.” Unfortunately, the aid can only be used by dogs who have experienced gradual loss, and the increase in background noise can be difficult for certain canines to adjust to.
There are different types of hearing aids for dogs in the works, including an in-the-ear type which requires a mold of the dog’s ear canal. Another option (best for smaller dogs) is attached to the dog’s collar, which connects to a tube and plug similar to a behind-the-ear hearing aid.
Just as hearing aids can drastically improve a human’s quality of life, they share the same potential for dogs suffering from hearing loss. A dog that has experienced gradual loss can become more fearful and on edge, or struggle with the anxiety that comes with being unable to hear his owner’s voice. His safety is also at risk, as he may no longer be aware of the sounds of cars, for example. With that said, some dogs can adapt quite quickly to hearing loss, using their other senses (such as smell) to a higher level, and such animals may not require assistive devices. A visit to the veterinarian can help you determine if your dog is a good candidate for hearing aids.
While canine hearing aids are clearly a great option for dogs who are struggling, the science, research and availability has a long way to go. Scheifele’s FETCH LAB at the University of Cincinnati is one of the very few institutions to provide testing and aid fitting services. And as you can imagine, helping your dog adjust to a foreign device that affects his senses to such a degree requires a great deal of patience and continual training. Some dogs (like humans!) may be unwilling to try the aids and perhaps reject them. The aids are also quite a financial investment. But if he is the right candidate for them, they are an investment that can provide your dog a happier, healthier life where he can continue to engage with the world as fully as possible, even in his later years.
Curious how a canine hearing test is performed? Check out this video!