Tricounty News

Itchy Ears

If you think kids get lots of ear infections, you've never owned a cocker spaniel. Almost every day at every veterinary clinic, dogs and cats are being seen for ear infections of varying causes and severities. We see calves and horses for ear problems as well. Usually dog-and cat-owners will notice them shaking their heads excessively, scratching at their ears, or rubbing them on the ground. Dogs can even shake their heads so violently they get ear hematomas, where their ear flap fills up with blood and they need surgery. There might be a foul odor coming from one or both ears, and if you look inside, you might see dark debris or inflamed skin under the ear flap. Ear mites are fairly common and are the main type of transmissible ear infection: cats can even give them to dogs. Some medications available to clear these infections are topical ear ointments, while another product we use on cats can be applied near the shoulder blades and actually clear infection and prevent ear mites for a month. The other types of ear infections, bacterial or fungal (yeast), are more likely going to be affecting only one animal in a group, and maybe only one ear. Some dogs have recurrent ear infections that are the result of underlying allergies, and dogs with floppy ears are structurally set up to have retained moisture in their ear canals. Warm, dark, damp environments are perfect for fungal and bacterial growth, so a cocker spaniel who likes to swim and has a touch of allergies also has the perfect storm for ear infections. Some groomers will remove hair from ear canals to minimize their affinity for retaining moisture. Diagnosis of all ear infections requires a microscopic exam for identification of the offending organism and selection of the appropriate weapon to kill bacteria, yeast, or mites. Some difficult bacterial infections require a culture and sensitivity to find the best antibiotic, and may require oral medication in addition to a topical to completely resolve. Treating these early while they are external ear infections is important so they do not become inner-ear infections, causing severe abnormalities like facial paralysis and head-tilts, or affect coordination and balance. Cleaning and drying products are also part of the treatment plan, and can be used preemptively after being in the lake, for example. Treatment of underlying allergies is most commonly accomplished with antihistamines or occasionally steroids, but identifying the specific allergen, whether environmental or dietary, would be the best so that it could be eliminated, if at all possible. Calves with head-tilts usually have an ear infection caused by Mycoplasma in the down-side ear. This is an inner ear infection, and is commonly treated by rupturing the ear drum for drainage, just like in kids when doctors put "tubes" in their ears. One antibiotic in particular can have some efficacy against Mycoplasma, so call us if you have calves with head-tilts. Horses have several skin abnormalities that can irritate the inside of their ears, such as aural plaques and fly-bite allergy, but bacterial or fungal infections are less common. Certainly, some horses are ear-shy due to increased sensitivity from these conditions, but they can also be ear-shy from a bad experience with someone giving them an "ear-twitch," or they simply don't want anyone messing with their ears. If your animal is showing any ear discomfort, let us know so we can begin treatment, and as always, their ears will get an exam at wellness check-ups. E-mail animal questions to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .