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Ear Problems in Dogs and Cats

Everyone knows that ear ache is often very painful. Unfortunately, our animals are very good at hiding pain and as owners we often cannot see or choose to ignore signs of problems.

What does a normal ear look like?

Human ear canals are fairly simple with a straight tube from the opening to the ear drum. Cats and dogs are more complex, both having a vertical canal and a horizontal canal. The vertical canal is a bit like an ice-cream cone shape that opens by the ear flap (pinna). This joins to a horizontal canal that is similar to the human canal, running from the base of the vertical canal to the ear drum.

The colour of normal skin is not really pink, it is more of a grey colour. Pink skin in animals is often a sign of inflammation. An animal with mild ear problems may just have slightly pink ear flaps or a pink ear canal.

A normal ear canal has very little ear wax. In fact, the majority of animals with normal ears have no visible wax down their canals. It is likely that an animal producing lots of ear wax has an underlying cause.

Normal ear canals have very smooth edges and the ear flaps are thin skin covering cartilage. As changes occur, the canals and ear flaps can start to get thickened and scarred. Over time, if left untreated, these changes will become permanent and can leave animals in constant pain even if they appear happy.

Some animals with sore ears may traumatise their ear flaps that result in swellings filled with blood. These are called aural haematomas and can sometimes be treated by simple draining, but may require surgery to correct.

Signs of Ear diseases

As stated already, many pets with ear problems will not show clear signs. However aside from looking for inflammation or excessive wax production, there may be other signs.

Some animals with a sore ear may scratch at it, shake their heads or react (e.g. growl) if you approach or touch the sore ear.

There are many nerves that pass through or around the ears. These control the position of the eyes, the head, balance, ability to blink and the size of the pupils. Animals with ear problems may present with neurological signs.

Common Causes of Ear Problems in Cats

The most common ear condition in cats is probably ear mites. These mites are usually found in kittens and cause irritation of the canals that produce excessive wax. They can be easily treated with medicated ear drops or some flea preparations.

Cats with white ear flaps are susceptible to sunburn (called solar dermatitis), that can turn develop into a cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. Applying a high factor sun cream to white ear flaps can reduce the risk if your cat enjoys sunbathing.

Some other skin mites (such as demodex), or foreign bodies (such as grass seeds), can on rare occasions cause ear problems and infections.

There are several growths that can affect cat’s ears. These vary in severity from benign polyps to more aggressive cancers, and in these cases cats may require major surgery to treat.

Common Causes of Ear Problems in Dogs

Puppies, like kittens, may have ear mites causing irritation and excessive wax production. As with kittens, these can be easily treated.

In the summer time, we often see animals with ear problems due to allergies or foreign bodies. Spaniel-type dogs appear particularly susceptible to ear foreign bodies, commonly grass seeds. These usually present with a fairly sudden onset of a painful ear. They may require sedation to assess a sore ear due to the discomfort.

Skin allergies often show up in the ears, as they have a warm environment that bacteria and yeasts like to grow in. In early stages of a skin allergy, the skin becomes inflamed and this makes it more susceptible to becoming infected. The combination of inflammation and a warm environment like ear canals (also feet and armpits!), makes infection in these areas worse. Allergies may be related to pollens or chemicals in the air causing skin conditions in pets (or hayfever in people!).

Dogs that swim a lot may be more susceptible to ear infections due to dirty water getting into the canals.

Ear infections are usually the result of another cause that give bacteria and yeasts the opportunity to grow, and are rarely the primary cause of ear disease on their own.

Treatment of Ear Problems

The immediate treatment of ear disease may require pain relief and often antibiotics. Topical ear treatments (i.e. ear drops) are usually more effective than tablets, but sometimes we may recommend both.

It is important to treat ear infections fully to reduce the risk of recurrence as soon as the treatment finishes. Antibiotic ear drops should be used as complete courses, and should never be used to apply just on an occasional basis. Occasional use of an antibiotic ear drop is likely to lead to resistant infections that are very difficult to treat.

The long term aim is to restore an ear canal to its normal state. Ear canals will change with time if the underlying problem is not treated, resulting in an end stage canal that can only be treated by surgical removal. Animals can be significantly more comfortable after ear canal removal, and this should not be ruled out as a treatment option in severe cases despite the severity of the surgery.

Allergies are a common cause of skin and ear diseases. There are many tests and treatments available to try to determine the allergy and/or treat the condition. Unfortunately, skin allergies are usually long term conditions that require lifetime treatment.

The use of ear cleaners may be beneficial. We would not recommend regular cleaning of a normal ear, as it may cause irritation. Animals that have excessive wax build up will often benefit from regular cleaning. Many cleaners are slightly acidic that can change the environment in the ear canal to reduce the risk of infections. It may be useful to clean dog’s ears after swimming to remove any dirty water.

Some animals benefit from examination and flushing of ear canals under sedation or anaesthesia.

We recommend a check up after completing a course of ear treatment to check that the canal is back to normal. Some animals require several treatments to restore the ear canal back to a normal state.

If you would like to learn how to clean your pet’s ears effectively, our nurses will be happy to demonstrate this for you so you can be confident in keeping their ears healthy at home. If you are concerned about your pet’s ears and think there may be infection present, please contact the surgery to make an appointment with one of our vets to assess.
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What could you save using our Healthy Pet Care scheme?

Our Healthy Pet Care scheme allows you to spread the cost of your pet’s vaccinations and preventative healthcare with a monthly fixed cost throughout the year.

Visit our Pet Health Care page to see full details of what our scheme includes.

Our fixed cost scheme will save you money over the year.

For example, using our Healthy Pet Care scheme for a Small Dog would save you £57.22 and using our Healthy Pet Care scheme for a Extra Large Dog over 40kg would save you £138.90. *This is according to our 2016 prices
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Join Our Healthy Pet Care Scheme

Our Healthy Pet Care Scheme is a great way to spread the cost of your pet’s care and enabling you to keep up to date with all their vaccinations as well as flea and worming treatments.

The scheme is provide your pet with:
  • Annual Health Check and Booster Vaccination
  • Six month Health Check with a Vet
  • Flea treatments (sufficient for 12 months)
  • Worming treatments (sufficient for 12 months)
  • 10% discount on: Microchipping, Lifestage & Prescription Diets, Waiting Room Sales Items, PETS Passport Scheme (including Rabies & relevant Tick Control products)
  • Additional benefits include: Complimentary Nail Clippings with a veterinary nurse
*2016 Prices
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2018 Veterinary Awards – nominations now open!

It’s that time of year again that the Pet Plan Veterinary Awards are open for nominations.

These awards were started to celebrate the hard work and dedication of all the veterinary staff across United Kingdom. They aim to recognise those who inspire clients and colleagues with their commitment and passion to the industry.

Do you feel one of our staff members has gone above and beyond for you and your pet?

Has our practice made you and your pet feel welcome and relaxed even at those stressful times?

The categories for these awards include:
    • Practice of the Year
    • Vet of the Year
    • Veterinary Nurse of the Year
    • Practice Manager of the Year
    • Practice Support Staff of the Year
Nominations can be made at reception or visit petplan.co.uk.
The deadline for nominations is the 12th January 2018.
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Bang! Whoosh! Pop! : Preparing for Fireworks Season

As the clocks go back and the nights draw in, it can be a very distressing time of the year, for both pets and their owners. Over 40% of dogs in the UK are reported to suffer with a fear of fireworks. It should also be remembered that cats will also suffer with the fireworks.

Animals who do differ with firework phobias will display a range of problems, varying from those animals who simply bark at the fireworks to try and make them go away, those that hide from them, those that show obvious signs of distress, right through to those that appear to “freeze”. For us as owners, these signs can be greatly distressing to see. Yet for the animals this fear will not only cause emotional trauma, but often lead to physical injuries as well.

So what do we, as pet owners, do to try and reduce the problems our animals suffer due to firework phobias? Simply put, there is not one simple solution. Yet, by adopting numerous strategies, we should be able make this time of year easier for our cats and dogs.

The following strategies may apply to a greater or lesser extent to certain individual situations, and often many different approaches need to be taken at the same time.
  1. If at all possible avoid the fireworks, which is easier said than done these days. If you do have a friend who lives in a remote area consider spending time with them on the worst of the fireworks, for example when the local display is on. Sadly, we all known that now firework “night” seems to last many weeks.
  2. To reduce the impact of the sound of fireworks you can try to create competing noises such as loud music. Remember not to play this too loudly as this noises itself may end up causing anxiety. In extreme cases noise-cancelling headphone can be used. “Mutt Muffs” are available through www.safeandsoundpets.com.
  3. It may seem obvious, but do close blinds and curtains well before any fireworks start to reduce the effects the sights the fireworks have on our animals.
  4. Absolutely avoid any form of punishment. This will simple lead to more anxiety and even cause your pet to become aggressive.
  5. Comforting you animal when they are scared is a controversial area. Definitely try to be at home during any known firework events. Although you shouldn’t pet or over fuss your animal when they are worried, as this can reinforce the fearful behaviour, it may help some pets to hold them firmly and lean into them, while using long, form massaging strokes, rather than normal petting.
  6. Create a “safe haven” cover an indoor crate with a blanket and put their bedding and one or two familiar toys inside. This will become a darkened den for them in which to hide, but it’s a good idea to try to get them used to this area before firework season.
  7. In many situations the most helpful method to help control firework phobias is through the use of a technique called desensitisation and counter conditioning. Essentially, this is getting your pets used to the sounds of fireworks by playing a CD at a volume that doesn’t provoke a fearful reaction, and rewarding them for this non-reaction. The volume is gradually increased, and a strict programme followed over several weeks to months. This needs to be, therefore, started well before firework season and should not be undertaken if fireworks are likely to start soon. One of the most successful programs is Sounds Scary and is available through www.soundtherapy4pets.co.uk for less than £10. If your pet suffers from firework phobia we would strongly recommend purchasing this now and to start the program in the New Year once all the fireworks have finished, and to then consider repeating the program next summer.
  8. Various medications are available to reduce our pets’ anxieties. These medications are used alongside a behaviour modification plan such as the desensitisation and counter conditioning described above, and need to be started weeks or months prior to the fireworks starting. Often at the hospital we asked at the last minute to supply something to help to calm pets. Medications are available that reduce anxiety in the short term, and will help at the time but have no lasting effect – your pet will again suffer with the same fears next year. A key point for owners is not to be scared to use these drugs. By not medicating animals when appropriate we may be simply prolonging their suffering.
  9. Pheromone treatments area available such as Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats. These are available as a plug-in, collar and now a tablet and may help some animals, but not all.
  10. Dietary supplements such as omega-3 supplements, zylkene and calmex again may help some dogs with mild phobias.
  11. It is now possible to purchase a tight fighting wrap such as an Anxiety Wrap which is design to apply constant pressure to help relax muscles. Studies suggest these may help some, but not all, dogs. They are available through www.anxietywrap.com.
  12. To date there has been no study which has successfully shown any definite beneficial effect for behavioural change for any homeopathic treatment studied in companion animals.
The expected outcome for helping animals with firework phobia should be good if we follow and commit to a thorough desensitisation program. This will take time and patience. It has also been recognised that many animals who suffer with firework phobia also experience other behavioural issues such as Generalised Anxiety Disorder or Separation Anxiety. If you feel this may apply to you and if you are truly committed to your animal’s emotional well-being, there are many qualified people to help both you and your pet. Don’t be frightened to ask for help!
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