How much your pet can hear depends on many different factors including species, breed, age, overall health and clean, healthy ears. Understanding animal hearing and how to take good care of your pets' ears will help keep them hearing their best throughout their lives.
There is no accurate right or wrong answer to the question of who hears better, dogs, cats or humans. Frequencies (units of Hertz, Hz or kilohertz, kHz) and varying loudness (decibels, or dB) are difficult to measure on an even scale with different species, but audiograms can give us a fairly close idea. Measuring Hz ranges, humans can detect 64-23,000 Hz, dogs hear about 67-45,000 Hz and cats around 45-64,000 Hz. This information is just a small piece of the complicated hearing puzzle and an incomplete picture as each species uses its hearing abilities in combination with all other senses.
Even human testing has inaccuracies and individual variations, but humans can communicate what they hear and where a sound came from, whereas we have communication issues with our pets. To test a dog's or cat's hearing ability, the methods have taken years of research to devise and the result is a relatively easy technique called the Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response hearing test. This enables researchers and veterinarians to measure electrical impulses to the brain while the patient has earbuds in to listen. The impulse readings allow us to 'see' the response to hearing certain sounds.
Sound location is another area of comparison. Humans can determine the location a sound is coming from better than dogs, but not as well as cats, whose ears can rotate up to 180 degrees, separately and their ear canal passageway and fine hairs capture location like fine-tuned sonar.
Frequency is another measure of sound that can be compared and, in this category, dogs are better listeners than humans. Pet caregivers will often say that their dog or cat has extra sensory perception and it some ways, compared to humans, their hearing is much more acute. We say the dog that knows when a family member will pull into the driveway every day is amazing and it is — the dog's hearing that is! Cats that can sense earthquakes may seem supernatural in regions of frequent quakes but it is most likely hearing and feeling vibrations long before humans feel the tremors.
This extra ability relating to hearing may be a great gift for dogs and cats, but there is a steep price to be paid for it when they are surrounded in a human-powered world. They can hear noises that we are not aware of, such as some electrical circuits and barely perceptible hums, buzzes and clicks. Noises that we may find typical or routine, our cats and dogs can hear as deafening, literally including the pitch of certain voices, televisions, vacuums and certain music.
Do cats and dogs like music and if so, what types? This is an area for the reader to research and do your own home experiments (without extremely loud music or noise). Watch your pet closely when you play different music. Each pet has different preferences, but most testing indicates that soft classical music is favored.
Hearing loss can cause your pets to be very startled if awakened from sleep. As their sense is hampered, they may begin to be more vocal and louder as they cannot hear themselves as well. Everyday activity sounds may cause them to be more jumpy or reactive. This is hearing loss and patience is very important as our pets rely so heavily on hearing.
Both cats and dogs suffer from hearing loss with old age, just as humans do. In all species, it is typically caused by poor blood circulation, which is natural, but injury from infections can accelerate hearing loss dramatically.
Working to eliminate ear infections for your dogs and cats is a critical part of good animal care.
Most times, our pets will let us know there is a problem with their ears by frequent head shaking as if just coming out of a bath, walking with a tilted head, incessant scratching at ears or by having a strong odor that seems to be coming from their ears. A closer look at their ears may show you that there is a large amount of dirt or greasy material, or irritated and red, or you cannot see into their ears as they seem to be swollen shut. Or, there may be no signs whatsoever of what is bothering their ears. Ear infections are a common problem for both dogs and cats and the infection or irritation can be caused by a number of different things. Purchasing an ear cleaner from a pet supply place may help, but most often ear problems are not caused by simply being dirty, so the cleaner does just that, it cleans them but is not a treatment. Typical ear infections or otitis are caused by several different things and finding the source of the problem is the best and quickest way to resolve the itch and pain.
A veterinary visit is needed, and a quick ear exam and some simple testing can often identify the problem with treatments beginning immediately to alleviate and resolve your pet's discomfort. Avoiding treatment can lead to serious health problems including loss of hearing and septic infections. A veterinary technician may gather some information from you as to whether your pet has had any ear problems before, is your pet on any medications, how long have you noticed the symptoms and how sensitive the ears are to being touched. Even the most friendly dogs or cats can act differently when they are in pain and ear pain is especially intense.
The veterinarian will examine the outside of the ears before using an otoscope, the same type that you might see at a doctor's office, to look into each ear. So what will the veterinarian be looking for? Generally, fleas and ticks are not particularly common in the ear canal, but close inspection outside the ear, the surrounding fur and folds, will sleuth out the fleas or ticks that are causing scratching at the ears. Inside the ear canal, redness and inflammation, pus, debris, swelling or excess hair, any visible signs of concern can usually be detected.
The veterinarian or veterinary technician will often take ear swabs, sometimes multiple swabs from each ear. These swabs can be sent to an outside, specialty laboratory if needed but usually slides will be made, stains applied and evaluation under a microscope can give a great deal of information.
Allergies to dust, pollen, new food, new toys, dishes or blankets may be the root of problems and some veterinarians claim that is the leading cause of ear infections.
In-grown hair or poor ventilation from too much hair causes a situation where the ears can remain wet, creating the perfect atmosphere of bacteria and yeast growth. Certain breeds that have medium to long length hair and 'floppy' ears, ears that hang down over the ears, are more prone to ear infections. Some treatments along with specific fur trimming on a regular basis will resolve the issues.
Certain times, a particular type of medication that your pet is on can trigger negative reactions such as ear infections so it is important to let the vet hospital know what medications or supplements your pet is on. Additionally some thyroid or endocrine disorders can make your pet prone to infections.
Ear mites are more typically found with cats that are outdoors frequently, have strayed for several days or come into contact with solely outdoor cats. Ear mites are not restricted to cats but often when dog have ear mites it relates to a cat in or around the household with ear mites. Intense scratching and a black, grainy debris in the outer ear canal can be tell-tale signs but, again, a vet's office can identify that it is ear mites very quickly and effective treatments are available.
With an otoscope, the veterinarian can get a deeper view into the ear canal and this may reveal that something is stuck in the ear canal, such as burrs or other plant material. This is one of several reasons for avoiding cleaning your pets ears with cotton swabs. Using swabs can push foreign objects deeper into the ear and cause even greater damage.
If your pet is in extreme pain and a thorough exam cannot take place without causing further discomfort, a mild sedative for your pet may be suggested. After the veterinarian has determined what is causing the ear infection, the or she still may want to send swabs to an outside laboratory, especially in the case of reoccurring bacterial infections that are resistant to previous treatments.
A demonstration of how to properly clean a dog's or cat's ears is a great idea. Even if you are familiar with how it is done, watching someone trained can provide helpful pointers. Most veterinary practices provide this tutoring as part of the ear exam. Listen carefully about how to apply medications that may be prescribed — how much, how often, what time of day and for how long. Ask what to look for if the treatment is not working and contact the veterinary office if you did not complete the medication for any reason. Get support if you are unable to administer according to the directions. Most ear medications take 10 to 14 days to be fully effective.
A fascinating book titled "How Dogs Think" by Stanley Coren sheds bright light into canine senses including hearing. A highly recommended read for any dog caregiver.
Check out this website for some interesting information about cats, hearing and music: https://tinyurl.com/ydf6wtv2
Terry Hannum is a licensed veterinary technician, a farmer and an animal advocate. If you have a subject you would like to have her address, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Her columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/news/lifestyles.