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Don’t turn a blind eye to ears

Nurturing

The vet's view
Conal Finnerty

Due to the humid rather damp weather during August, we saw a large volume of patients in Skeldale with ear problems. This weather, coupled with animals swimming and perspiring a lot during the warmer summer months, results in more ear problems in both dogs and cats. Ear mites, fungal/bacterial infections and foreign objects, such as grass seeds, all contribute to the many incidents of ear problems we see in small animals.
Every one of us including our pets scratch from time to time but if your pet scratches incessantly, is constantly shaking their hear or banging away at an ear with their paw, then its time to investigate and sort the problem before it becomes a major issue. Early treatment in lots of cases will result in a more favourable and potentially less costly outcome than leaving it to ‘see how it goes’.
Treating dogs’ and cats’ ear problems at home or via Dr Google can be successful if you are dealing with a single, relatively straightforward issue, such as an excess build up of wax, but very often a number of causative agents are at play, such as combination (fungal/bacterial) infections with an underlying ear mite infestation. If these types of problems progress or are let go on too long before intervention, they can and often do lead to more serious infections to both the outer ear and, more importantly, problems with the middle and inner ear. The problem also becomes well established and consequently more difficult to treat successfully.
Particular breeds lend themselves to having more ear problems than others. Those breeds that have very hairy and narrow ear canals are more at risk of having on-going ear issues, simply due to poor air circulation and poor anatomical drainage of the ear. It can be worth considering this when getting a new pet, as it is so common for us to see relatively new owners driven to frustration and disillusionment due to having to frequently bring their pet to the vet.
With breeds with narrow ear canals, we here at Skeldale are performing more and more surgical procedures to physically open up the outer ear canal (this procedure to called a Zepps Operation, or lateral ear canal resection) to allow drainage, air flow and better treatment.
Fungal infections are particularly difficult and time consuming to treat, and very often recurrence is seen even with prolonged treatment. This can be a difficult message to get across sometimes.
Another potential complicating consequence of chronic or severe infection of the ear is when the poor pet bangs away at the ear with its hind paw or shakes its head violently, resulting in a rupture of one or more blood vessels in the ear pinna (lobe), which has to be drained surgically.
If your pet is scratching or head shaking constantly, even for a short time, they are telling you that something out of the ordinary is bothering them, and they should be seen to – sooner rather than later. Ear problems in dogs and cats can be trickier than people first imagine so early intervention really is vital.

Veterinarian Conal Finnerty MRCVS practises at the Skeldale Vet Clinic in Ballinrobe and Belmullet. Follow the clinic on Facebook, or call 094 9541980 or 087 9185350 to make an appointment.