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Thursday, August 04, 2005

Take a Good Sniff of Your Pet's Ears

Have you ever suffered through an earache?

If you have, do you recall the discomfort it created and the fact that it hurt 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until you or your physician took corrective action? Now, if you have a pet at home, take a good sniff of each ear canal.

If you are unable to read this sentence because your eyes are watering from the odor, we'll wait for you to catch up. An odor from the ear - even an aromatic, sweet smell - can suggest that your companion is suffering an ear infection.

Many times, we confuse the source of odor from our pets as coming from the mouth, skin, or elimination sites. Because the ear is often overlooked as a source for odor, many ear infections are advanced and significant by the time they are seen by your pet's doctor.

Hence, they require time, money, effort and the patience of Job to resolve. Unfortunately, if the disease is allowed to progress, the pet can becomes increasingly uncomfortable, the ear canals can undergo irreversible changes and middle or inner ear infections can follow.

One reason our pets are more prone to ear infections could be the anatomy of their ear canals. Our ear canal is a nice, horizontal tube that leads from our outer ear to our tympanic membrane, or eardrum.

Our companion "Doodlebug" has the same horizontal ear canal but, rather than leading to the outer ear, it makes a right angle vertically to the exterior. Thus, this reversed "L" arrangement of the ear canal allows for debris and moisture to accumulate and potentially serve as the nutrients needed for bacteria and yeast development.

Diagnosing the cause
Not all ear problems are alike; thus, there is no single "shotgun" cure that solves the disease. Ear infections can be caused or enhanced by parasites, foreign bodies, allergies, anal sac disease (really!), hypothyroidism and other systemic diseases. Another common cause deals with the climate: as the summer temperatures and humidity increase, our pets are more likely to go swimming, get bathed more frequently, or simply live through these 100 percent humidity days of summer.

If the cause of the infection can be determined, we stand a better chance of resolving the problem. To better discern the cause, your pet's doctor will perform a physical exam, paying close attention to the skin (it is not uncommon to find an underlying skin disease going hand-in-hand with an ear disease). A thorough examination of the ear canals is essential; however, if this procedure is painful to your pet, the kindest thing to do is allow the veterinarian to sedate your pet. By sedating, you are ensuring that your pet will not experience pain and will allow your veterinarian to thoroughly examine and clean the ear. But most important, because home care is generally essential, it will allow you to do the follow-up care without having to chase "Doodlebug" each time the ear medications are brought out.

Cleaning your pet's ear
Every time your pet goes swimming or as part of every bath, the ears should be cleaned and dried. There are two basic types of ear flush in the marketplace for cleaning ears: those containing alcohol (e.g. swimmer's ear) and those without alcohol (especially important for pets with an ear infection). Regardless of which you use, fill the ear canal with the flush solution and massage the ear at its base for a minute.

Allow your pet to shake out any debris and excess flush. Then, roll a cotton ball in the palm of your hands to make a "white tornado" and gently insert this into the ear canal to absorb the remaining flush. Repeat this step until the ear canal is dry. Some pets will allow a gentle, cool blow-drying of the ear canal. After finishing caring for both ears, be sure to give Doodlebug a hug and a special treat for enduring the embarrassment of your sniffing his ears.

Dr. Dennis Selig is a veterinarian at Northwood Hills Animal Hospital in Gulfport. Questions for this column are encouraged. Write to South Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association, 20005 Pineville Road, Long Beach MS 39560 and include a self-addressed stamped envelope.


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