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Congenital hereditary sensorineural deafness (CHSD) occurs in many dog breeds, including Australian Cattle Dogs. In some breeds, CHSD is associated with a lack of cochlear melanocytes in the stria vascularis, certain coat characteristics, and potentially, abnormalities in neuroepithelial pigment production. This study investigates phenotypic markers for CHSD in 899 Australian Cattle Dogs.
Auditory function was tested in 899 Australian Cattle Dogs in family groups using brainstem auditory evoked response testing. Coat colour and patterns, facial and body markings, gender and parental hearing status were recorded.
Deafness prevalence among all 899 dogs was 10.8% with 7.5% unilaterally deaf, and 3.3% bilaterally deaf, and amongst pups from completely tested litters (n = 696) was 11.1%, with 7.5% unilaterally deaf, and 3.6% bilaterally deaf.
Univariable and multivariable analyses revealed a negative association between deafness and bilateral facial masks (odds ratio 0.2; P ≤ 0.001). Using multivariable logistic animal modelling, the risk of deafness was lower in dogs with pigmented body spots (odds ratio 0.4; P = 0.050).
No significant associations were found between deafness and coat colour.
Within unilaterally deaf dogs with unilateral facial masks, no association was observed between the side of deafness and side of mask. The side of unilateral deafness was not significantly clustered amongst unilaterally deaf dogs from the same litter. Females were at increased risk of deafness (odds ratio from a logistic animal model 1.9; P = 0.034) after adjusting for any confounding by mask type and pigmented body spots.
Australian Cattle Dogs suffer from CHSD, and this disease is more common in dogs with mask-free faces, and in those without pigmented body patches. In unilaterally deaf dogs with unilateral masks, the lack of observed association between side of deafness and side of mask suggests that if CHSD is due to defects in molecular pigment pathways, the molecular control of embryonic melanoblast migration from ectoderm to skin differs from control of migration from ectoderm to cochlea. In Australian Cattle Dogs, CHSD may be more common in females.