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Ear Care


Mark Hale, DVM

1661 E. Mt. Gilead Road

Bolivar, Missouri  65613





            One of the more common abnormalities I find on a canine or feline physical exam is ear disease.  In this article I hope to highlight some of the basics in routine ear care.

            Let's start with the anatomy of the ear.  The external ear canal is that portion from the eardrum outward.  This is lined by skin, just like the rest of the body, only this skin has lots of glands that produce varying amounts of cerumen, or "ear wax."  The canal has both vertical and horizontal areas, and both can be visualized with an otoscope.  Inward from the eardrum are the middle and inner ear.  These contain very delicate structures and normally cannot be seen.  Infection can sometimes enter this area and become very painful and difficult to treat.

            Signs that your pet may have ear disease include odor, discharge, redness or swelling, scratching or rubbing, shaking or tilting of the head, or changes in behavior.  If you notice any of these signs, you should have your pet examined by its veterinarian.  Early diagnosis and treatment can often stop what could become a painful long term condition.

            Some of the most common causes of external ear infections, or otitis externa, include allergies, parasites, bacteria, yeast and foreign bodies.  Other causes less common can include tumors, hormonal abnormalities, trauma, and hereditary factors.  Diagnosis of the cause usually requires at least an otoscopic exam, microscopic exam for parasites, and a microscopic exam of a stained slide made from the ear exudates.  Determining the underlying cause for the otitis is often the most challenging and important part.

            Ear cleaning, as a preventive or as a treatment, is best done with a commercial, mildly acidic product.  Many brands of these are sold and are relatively inexpensive.  First fill the ear canal with solution, and then massage the base of the ear for 20-30 seconds to loosen the debris.  Then you can wipe out the excess cleaner, along with any loose debris with a cotton ball or "Q-tip."  Then let your pet shake its head to remove the remaining solution and debris from deeper in the canal.  Most pets do not enjoy this procedure, but it should not sting.  After allowing the ear to dry, you can apply any prescribed ear medication if needed.

            If you have questions about your pet, check with your veterinarian.  Topics such as this are also good to cover on your pet's next annual exam.  After all, even with all of the advancements in medicine, your daily observations along with your veterinarian's examinations are the most important components of preventive health care.