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How Do Pets Hear?

  
 

Hearing Range of Dogs and Cats


Hearing medical terms: Hertz (Hz), Decibel, auricle, auditory ossicle, middle ear, inner ear, Aural hematoma

Hertz (Hz)

Sound energy is a wave. The wave, like waves at the sea shore, can come quickly together, or come slowly and far apart. This frequency of waves is called Hertz (Hz). One Hz is 1 cycle or wave/second. Sound ranges from 1-100,000 Hz. Using the abbreviation of k for 1,000 (kilo), we can also say sound reaches 100 kHz. We perceive Hz as pitch, and the higher frequencies have higher pitches. A mouse shriek has a high pitch, while the rumbling of an earthquake has a low pitch.

Hertz (Hz) and Species

Humans:
 
  Hear 20 to 23 kHz, and are better able to hear sounds at lower frequencies.
Dogs:   Hear sounds to 45 kHz.
Cats:   Hear sounds to 64 kHz.
Bats:   Hear sounds to 110 kHz.
Porpoises:   Hear sounds to 150 kHz.

Younger people and animals generally have more acute hearing than adults and can hear sounds in the full range of Hertz.

  
Each pet's ears have a distinct ear position, shape and carriage
  

Decibel

Decibel is the measure of how loud a sound is. At extreme ranges—upper and lower—of hearing, a sound must be louder or, that is, be at a higher decibel, for it to be audible. Because our upper limit for sound is below that of dogs and cats, a high-pitched siren must be louder for us to hear than for our pets to hear.

Loud sounds cause pain, and our pets feel auditory pain far sooner than we can. We need to be considerate with how loud we turn our stereos and TVs.

Ear Movement

Your pet has more than 10 muscles to move their ears which easily changes their ears' shape and position—bending them, clasping them to their head, and turning them almost 180 degrees. Pets take advantage of ear mobility to signal emotions and intentions. Human ears are pretty tame in comparison, although they're handy for jewelry.

Deafness: Fluid, Infection, Tumors, and Polyps

Fluid in the middle ear can make it hard for your pet to hear. If the fluid was introduced by flushing, it is usually absorbed within 7-10 days and your pet's hearing will return. If the fluid is the result of allergies, your pet will be hard of hearing until the allergies are cleared up.

If your pet has a chronic ear infection, the infection can eventually cause the ossicles (bones) in the middle ear to thicken and harden so that they cannot transmit sound. With thickened ossicles, your pet will lose the ability to hear high-frequency sounds.

If your pet develops a tumor or polyp in their middle ear that blocks air movement, they may become deaf. Many of these pets are able to hear low frequency sounds that are conducted through bone rather than through air. With bone conduction, your pet can hear low frequency sounds—similar to what you'd hear with your fingers in your ears.

Many pets fool us into thinking they have normal hearing if they have at least one good ear. What you may notice, though, is that a pet with one deaf ear can't locate the source of a sound as well as it could in the past.

Aural Hematoma

An aural hematoma is hemorrhage and bruising within the ear. Animals with painful or itchy ears shake their heads so violently that blood vessels break within the ear causing an aural hematoma. The ear visibly swells. The best treatment for an aural hematoma is draining the blood through an incision made on the inside of the ear flap, and placing a tube in the ear so that blood will not pool in the ear. Without surgery and drainage, the blood clots stay in the ear for weeks, leading to scarring and a thickened or “cauliflower” ear.

Your pet is asking for help when they shake their head so hard the vessels inside their ears break. Work with your veterinarian to find out what caused the head shaking.

  

  

A Pet's Ear Has Three Parts:

  1. External ear or auricle
  2. Middle ear
  3. Inner ear

1. The External Ear

How your dog looks has a lot to do with its ears. The size, shape, and mobility of your pet's ears influence its expression. Breed standards describe the external ear as having

  • Position
  • Shape
  • Carriage
External ear position synonymous with ear set, is described as high, low, close, or wide:
  • High: the base of the ear joins the skull above the eyes: Siberian Husky, Sheltie, and Great Dane
  • Low: the base of the ear joins the skull below the eye: Basset Hound, Canaan Dog, and King Charles Spaniel
  • Close: the ears are very near each other on the skull: Toy Fox Terrier and German Shepherd
  • Wide: the ears are far apart from each other on the skull: Australian Cattle Dog and Italian Greyhound
External ear shape is even more varied than ear position. For example, there is a
  • Bat ear - blunt with rounded tips: Welsh Corgi
  • Rose ear - folded back from the head: American Staffordshire Terrier and Whippet
  • Tulip ear - upright with edges curved forward like a tulip: French Bulldog
  • Heart-shaped ear - has cartilage wider at the base than the tip: Pekinese and Tibetan Mastiff
  • V-shaped ear - long and triangular: Bullmastiff, Puli, and Vizsla
  • Triangular ear - shorter and carried upright, as with the Siberian Husky, Samoyed, Schipperke, and Sheltie
External ear carriage is:
  • Erect or pricked, characteristic of the German Shepherd, Siberian Husky, and Pomeranian
  • Dropped, characteristic of Spaniels, Dachshund, and Poodle
  • Semi-dropped, semi-pricked or cocked, characteristic of the Collie, Fox Terrier, and Sheltie

Because ear carriage, which is influenced by muscles attaching the base of the ear to the skull, is important in breed standards, terms have developed that describe carriage faults. Four examples of carriage faults:

  • Broken or broken-down ears are deformed or misshapen due to abnormal cartilage or injury
  • Dead ears are immobile, sluggish or poorly responsive
  • Fly or flying ears either stick out from the side of the face, or are prick ears that don't stand up
  • Propeller ears stick out sideways, almost horizontally
External ear carriage may be as short as 2 inches or as long as 4 1/2 inches, and has a bend or crook in the middle. At the end of the canal is a delicate eardrum (tympanic membrane). The skin lining the canal is thin and has hair follicles, sebaceous glands, and apocrine glands. Pets with more than the average number of apocrine glands, such as the spaniels, tend to have more ear problems than the average pet.

The canal is designed to be self cleaning. Skin cells slough off and are carried toward the outside, pulling secretions and dust with them. If the canal is chronically inflamed, or becomes too narrow due to infection, it loses its self-cleaning ability.

2. Middle Ear

The middle ear is normally filled with air. The eardrum, or tympanic membrane, which forms one wall of the middle ear, vibrates with sound. The drum has two parts, a pars flaccida with many blood vessels, and a pars tensa. In a dog, the pars flaccida can stretch, and bulges out with air or fluid; for example, if your dog has allergies or a middle ear infection, your veterinarian often sees a bulging drum.

Although you cannot see your pet's eardrum, you may notice your pet shaking their head because he or she has an irritated middle ear. Pets also paw their ears when they hurt. If they paw frantically, their claws scratch their eyes, and many pets with ear infections show up at the vet clinic not for ear infections, but because they have red, tearing eyes.

When a veterinarian places tubes in your pet's ears to relieve pressure, they are inserted in the pars tensa, which does not have blood vessels. The pars tensa is translucent, and it's possible to see fluid, bubbles, and one of the tiny ear bones, the malleus, through it. In cats, the malleus is straighter than it is in the dog, perhaps contributing to the cat's ability to hear high frequency sounds, such as mouse chattering, even better than dogs can.

Middle Ear Auditory Ossicles

The 3 bones in the middle ear—incus (anvil), stapes (stirrup), and malleus (hammer)—are each about the size of a matchhead. The tiniest bone in the body, the stapes, works with the incus and malleus to transmit sound from the middle ear to the inner ear. The bones vibrate so that sound increases 20 times from the outer ear to the inner ear. These bones—and ligaments, muscles, and nerves—fill the tympanic cavity or middle ear. To allow air pressure to equalize in the sealed middle ear, there is an auditory canal that opens in the very back of the throat, the nasopharynx.

When there is fluid rather than air in the middle ear, pets can feel extreme pain, and may shake or paw their heads. Fluid in the middle ear is usually caused by allergies, but can also be caused by infection. Infection travels to the middle ear either from the back of the throat up the auditory canal or from the outer ear right through the eardrum to the middle ear.

3. The Inner Ear

The inner ear is filled with fluid rather than air. It's in the inner ear where sound is transformed from air waves to nerve impulses. The inner ear sits within the temporal bone and contains nerves both for hearing and for balance. The nerves interact with tiny hairs in the Organ of Corti, which functions rather like a gyroscope. The 8th Cranial Nerve runs through the inner ear and carries both sound and balance information to the brain.

  
 
 
   
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