LSU Vet School Home to International Expert in Deafness in Dogs and Cats

Dalmatian being tested for deafness

Pet owners always want the best for their furry, four-legged companions. Fortunately, the LSU vet school is home to the leading expert in deafness of dogs and cats. Professor of Neuroscience at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. George Strain, is known as the leading international authority in deafness in canine and feline. 

Spending his entire career, Dr. Strain has tested dogs all over the world. He has discovered a leading factor for congenital deafness is the linkage in genes in white skin and white hair on dogs. Dr. Strain explained that the blood vessels in the inner ear have pigment cells called melanocytes. The gene suppresses the pigment cells from creating pigment so the blood vessels degenerate and the hair cells in the inner ear dissipate.

Deafness is also linked to certain breeds of dogs such as Dalmatians, Catahoulas, Australian Cattle Dogs and Havanese, to name a few.

“Approximately 30 percent of Dalmatians are deaf in one ear – most of the time you cannot tell and the good ear will respond to sound,” said Dr. Strain. “A lot of times the pet owner will bring in a litter of puppies and will have the litter tested for deafness.”

The hearing test known as the brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER) process is “straightforward and only takes about five minutes.” Dr. Strain explained that the test involves placing electrodes on the scalp of the pet and placing a clicking sound into the plug of the ear. The computer equipment then detects the electro activity from the scalp to the auditory pathway being activated.

“As a signal is passed through the vein of the puppy, a series of peaks will be shown on the machine,” explained Dr. Strain. “If the ear is deaf, we get a flat line. If the ear can hear, a pattern shows up. If the dog is deaf in one ear, the pet owner typically sells them under the contract that they must be spayed or neutered so the new owners do not breed them. If they are deaf in both ears, they may try to find a good home, but usually they are euthanized because the quality of life is very unpleasant for the bilateral deaf dog.”

Dr. Strain’s interest in deafness has encouraged him to conduct further research and is receiving funding from the AKC Canine Health Foundation to assist in his research.

“I’ve actually got a study going on right now where we’re collecting DNA from Dalmatians and the Australian cattle dog. We’re working with DNA markers to try to identify where the gene is located that is responsible for the deafness,” said Dr. Strain.

If he is able to identify, he should be able to develop a DNA test that dog breeders can use to decide which dogs to breed and which not to breed.

When asked what has been the most rewarding aspect of his career, Dr. Strain said the students.

“I work with very smart, intelligent students. I’ve had students that are very inspiring to me – a lot of neat people,” Dr. Strain said with a grin.

About Dr. George Strain

Dr. Strain is currently teaching neuroscience to first year students, a portion of a pharmacology course to second year students and graduate courses focused on neuroscience offered to veterinary students and main campus students. He also has an extensive list of higher education administrative positions as well as a bachelor degree in electrical engineering degree, a masters degree biomedical engineering and a PhD in physiology and biomedical engineering, followed by postdoctoral training in neurology.