Ear Disease: The Whole Picture

Ear aliments are one of the most common problems seen in dogs, and are intermittent in cats. Approximately 15-20% of all dog patients and 6-7% of all cat patients have some type of ear disease and not shown clinical signs until it becomes quite severe. Signs of ear disease are scratching at ears, shaking head, or whining when ears are touched. Some ear infections can be lifelong problems if the underlying problem is not resolved or controlled. It is essential that owners know that ear infections hurt. Because it is an infection, it can be the catalyst for infection elsewhere in the body. It can cause hearing loss and even neurological problems. Causes of ear disease can be allergies, bacteria, fungi, parasites, foreign bodies, and hypothyroidism. Allergies are the most common.

So, how is all of this diagnosed? It is always routine to obtain a swab sample from the inside of the ear when the patient is present in the clinic. This can sometimes allow us to see bacteria, yeast, and mites. This is very important, especially if the infection is chronic. It is possible the medication that is being prescribed is not killing all of the resistant bacteria. If hypothyroidism is suspected, blood work may be done.

The new and exciting aspect of ear disease diagnoses and treatment has come along in the form of Video Vetscope. This machine now allows us, with the animal under sedation or anesthesia, to see deep into the ear canal through a lens that displays onto a television screen for all to see. Sedation or anesthesia may be required due to the usual nature of ear disease being quite painful, painful enough that most patients will not allow a thorough exam without it. The video scope can show us if the ear canal is swollen, red, if any foreign bodies are present, ticks, mites, excessive wax build up, wax balls, and most importantly if the tympanic membrane, which separates the external ear canal from the middle/inner ear is intact. This is important in treatment regiments. There are many ear medications that are toxic to the middle/inner ear. If they are applied, the initial problem can, and most likely will, get worse, causing neurological signs to surface. The Video Vetscope also allows us to take photographs of the problem to show the owner. Also, before and after pictures show the importance of, for example, flushing procedure to remove wax and debris, or biopsy instrument to pull out foreign bodies.

Last, but not least, ear disease is treatable. Tumors can even be removed. The most important thing is proper diagnosis, proper treatment until complete resolution, and routine physical exams it falls on the veterinarian and the staff to educate owners on the proper way to find out what the problem is and the proper way to treat the particular problem. All owners must be shown how to take care of ears at home because this is where all of the medicating and ear cleansing takes place. If done right, the pet and owner can look forward to getting on with more happy days together.

Compliments of Guston Animal Clinic 703-339-7725

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