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Ear Disease in Dogs & Cats

By Dr. Shawn Messonnier, DVM
Updated: 2009-05-15 3:47 PM 2785 Views    Category: - General Pet Care
 
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Ear problems are among the most commonly seen conditions in veterinary practices. Unlike the condition in people, where “earaches” involving the middle and inner ear are common, most of the ear problems in pets involve the outer or external ear canals. This article will take a look at some common ear problems in pets.
 
In most pets, ear disease takes the form of infections. While younger pets are more commonly afflicted with ear mites they contract from contact with other infected pets, older pets usually have infections caused by yeasts or bacteria. These can result from excessive wax in the ears (very common in many spaniels,) excess moisture, allergies, food sensitivities, mange, immune diseases, and hormonal diseases (thyroid and adrenal disease.)
 
Diagnosis of the cause of the ear disease is by visual examination and microscopic examination. A small amount of the material in the ear is examined microscopically and the cause determined. After determining the cause, the proper therapy can be prescribed.
 
Aural hematomas (ear blood blisters) are occasionally seen in dogs and rarely in cats. These hematomas develop as the smaller blood vessels under the skin of the ear bleed. The cause is not always known but usually is associated with pets that, for whatever reason, shake their head and ears. The leaky blood vessels forms a blood clot that develops between the skin of the ear and underlying cartilage. Herbal and homeopathic therapy can resolve some of these cases (especially the smaller hematomas.) In my practice, the larger hematomas usually require surgery to remove the clot and stop the bleeding.
 
Some pets are more prone to ear diseases, particularly infections and aural hematomas. Those breeds with large floppy ears (spaniels, basset hounds) and those prone to allergies (terriers, retrievers) seem to have more infections and hematomas than other breeds. Regular ear cleaning using non-medicated rinses (homeopathics and herbal ear rinses containing ingredients such as tea tree oil, peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil, etc.) are particularly helpful in reducing ear odor and infections.
 
One of the best products I've found is the alcohol-free Oxyfresh Ear Cleaner. Just a few drops in your pet's ears will keep them clean, reduce odor and help reduce frequent trips to the doctor!
 
Finally, it's worth mentioning deafness in pets. Some deafness is inherited. Light colored dogs and cats and merle colored dogs tend to have light colored (or different colored) eyes and tend to exhibit variable degrees of deafness present since birth. There is no treatment for these pets. Hearing loss is quite common in older pets as in older people. In some cases, the hearing loss is a sign of cognitive disorder and will improve with therapy for the cognitive disorder. It is for this reason that I treat ALL cases of deafness with the therapies I use when treating pets with cognitive disorder. In most cases deafness in older pets is part of the normal aging process, is progressive, and is irreversible and is only treatable with hearing aids.
 
Treatment
Treating ear disease means identifying the cause. Usually bacteria or yeast cause ear infections in older dogs and cats, whereas ear mites are more common in younger pets. Ear hematomas can occur in pets of any age, although most of my patients with ear hematomas are middle age and older.
 
Treating ear infections requires topical therapy with either conventional medications or herbal or homeopathic ear drops. Treatment must be given for at least 2-3 weeks to make sure the infection has cleared (ear mites must be treated for a minimum of 4 weeks with the appropriate topical therapy.)
 
Prior to treatment, it's important that your pet's ears are thoroughly cleaned. This is done while your pet is still at the veterinarian's office. Since infected ears are often painful, sedation or anesthesia may be needed. Still, it's important that the ears are cleaned or your attempts to treat the ears at home will be less successful.
 
I rarely need oral medications to treat ear disease, but I do use natural therapies orally to control ear infections. Olive leaf extract (I recommend Oli-Vet by VetriScience is a wonderful natural therapy that helps boost the immune system as well as kill bacteria and yeasts. Using this plus topical therapies has helped cure many a problem ear disorder. Other therapies, including various homeopathics and herbs such as Echinacea or goldenseal, may also be helpful to boost the pet's immune system and act as a natural antibacterial/antifungal.
 
Conclusion
Finally, the underlying cause must be treated in pets with chronic ear disease. Chronic ear infections are common in dogs, especially in spaniels and retrievers. Whenever I consult with an owner whose pet has a chronic infection of any type, I always think of several things. First, while true food allergies are rare, a natural diet can help some pets, and the food you are currently feeding is not one I recommend. A better diet is always indicated even if the pet doesn't get better simply by switching diets. I also worry about an underlying immune problem which predisposes to chronic infections. Therefore I always do something (herbal or homeopathic) to support the immune system, and I make sure the pet is not suffering from allergies or adrenal or thyroid disease. I also make sure the current treatment is correct. So often the incorrect drug, dosage, or dosing interval and length of treatment are incorrect.
 
Most of my patients with ear disease do respond to therapy with topical medications, immune support, and natural antimicrobials. Don't get discouraged as I think your pet can respond to a similar treatment.
 

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Dr. Messonnier, a 1987 graduate of Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine, opened Paws & Claws Animal Hospital in 1991. His special interests include exotic pets, dermatology, and animal behavior. Dr. Messonnier is a well-known speaker and author. In addition to serving clients, he is a regular contributor to several veterinary journals, sits on the advisory board of the journal Veterinary Forum and regularly consults with veterinarians across the country and is a holistic pet columnist for Animal Wellness, Body + Soul, and Veterinary Forum. More info can be found at http://www.petcarenaturally.com.
 
 
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