LISTEN UP PET OWNERS
I spend about 10 per cent of my time looking at ears — cat ears, dog ears, tall ears and floppy ears. For such a small part of your pet’s body, they can certainly be a problem area.
I always thought that one of the reasons veterinarians treat so many ear problems is because it’s very easy for pets to show their owners when they are having problems — they will shake their head, scratch their ears and maybe even rub their head along the ground. Unwell ears will also start to smell really fast.
During the warmer months, the most common ear-related problems that I see tend to be some sort of foreign material getting stuck in one or both of the ears.
Most often, it will be a grass seed, but veterinarians have many stories of amazing things they have found. For me personally, I have had to treat cases of dead flies or pieces of stick — and lots and lots of grass seeds that have become lodged in the ears. If a pet’s ear problem is related to a foreign object, about half the time I can look down their ear and find the cause of the issue. The other half of the time, I will need to give the pet heavy sedation or a general anaesthetic to remove the foreign material.
I often prefer examining ears when a pet is asleep because I can have a very thorough look and ensure nothing is missed. The ear canal is also a very sensitive area and it’s the last place you want to be using a pair of forceps if you’re wrestling with a dog or cat.
All year round I see some cats and lots of dogs with ear infections and most are due to the overgrowth of the yeast that normally lives in the canal.
However, sometimes pets will also get bacterial infections and, due to the shape of their ears, they can be really difficult to treat. Often we have to clean out the ear while the pet is under an anaesthetic.
Sometimes when I look down the ear of a pet that is shaking its head, I find other problems such as ear canal tumours. A lot of cats will get polyps — which are benign growths in their ear canal — and while these are not going to spread, they cause ongoing chronic infections in the ear. Dogs, unfortunately, can get cancerous growths in the ear and these can require quite radical surgeries to remove.
As I say in a lot of my columns, don’t ignore what your pet is telling you — the earlier we pick it up the better.