Pet Corner

An Earful of Health

| September/October 2005

It’s a good idea to heed what our pets’ ears have to tell us. In addition to listening, animals also talk with their ears. By using dozens of ear muscles to transform and mobilize their ear flaps into a pattern, many animals, especially cats and dogs, have the ability to create a virtual dialogue. Ears erect, for example, means, “I am alert and listening.”

In addition to their ability for two-way communication, an animal’s ears have more basic functions — hearing and balance — and either function can be disturbed by disease, age-related changes or nerve disruption from various causes. The ears are a prime site for disease, and are thus one of the first areas we veterinarians examine.

Determine the Problem

Dogs with ear infections (medically known as otitis externa) typically shake their heads and dig at their ears, and they may roll along the ground to relieve the itch. There may be discharge from the ear, along with an unpleasant odor.

Predisposing factors often instigate the infection. For example, long ear flaps that trap moisture and heat help provide an ideal environment for bugs to grow. Many cases of otitis are related to allergies. Accumulation of earwax and oils in the ear canal creates an environment that encourages yeast to grow.

Ear mites can occur in dogs, although not as often as they do in cats, where mites account for about 50 percent of all ear infections. Ear mites are small parasites that roam freely in the ear, and they can drive a critter crazy — frantic ear scratching is a common symptom. The mite-infested ear typically has a dry, crumbly, blackish exudate that can be seen in the ear canal.

Mites are generally easy to treat — oils cover the breathing apparatus of the adults and eventually kill them. Some herbal remedies have anti-parasitic activity and can be added to an oil-based treatment. Usually, dogs acquire their ear mites from cats, so if there are any cats in the family, treat the cats and dogs together.

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