My Ears Bring Me Tears

Franco-HultmanTwo of my last ten patients this week were brought to Westwood Animal Hospital because they had some type of ear problem. A third visited to have routine cleaning done to prevent problems. Itchy, painful, smelly ear problems are one of the more common reasons for visits to the veterinarian. These conditions are typically very irritating for the pet and she will shake her head, scratch, rub her ears against the ground, whine and cry. The inside of the ear is usually inflamed and may have a moist or crusty discharge. If the dog scratches hard enough, a blood vessel in the ear flap may break causing it to swell with blood. This big blood blister is referred to as a hematoma and usually requires surgical correction. The discomfort can be so severe that the pet may lower its head when reached for and may growl or snap.

Some breeds are more susceptible to ear problems and these include Poodles, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels,  Basset Hounds and Chinese Shar-Peis.

There are a variety of reasons why ears may become inflamed and these include bacterial infections, yeast infections, food allergies, environmental allergens, hormonal problems, tumors and parasites, like ear mites.

Gelsy-Jacques4Since there are many underlying causes of ear problems, it is important that appropriate diagnostics are done so an effective treatment plan can be chosen. The pet won’t get better if you just assume it has ear mites and treat with an insecticide when it actually has a yeast infection. The first step is to examine inside the ears with light and magnification, using an otoscope. In most cases, the next step is to swab material from the ears for staining and a microscopic exam. The microscopic exam can be a very important diagnostic tool, but its value becomes limited if the pet’s ears are filled with medication right before it actually comes in for an exam. So it’s usually best to postpone treatment until a veterinarian has had a chance to to check the ears.

The pet needs to see a veterinarian (before attempting any type of treatment) if you notice:

  • The ear is painful
  • There is a foul odor
  • The ear is very itchy and uncomfortable
  • There is fluid in the ear
  • There is a lot of debris in the ear

Treatment is determined by the cause of the problem the condition of the ears. If the ears are full of debris, they might require medicated irrigation  If all the inflammatory junk (a technical term) is not removed, medication won’t make contact with ear lining and will be less effective. While ear drops are most commonly prescribed, some pets may also require medication to treat an allergy or a diet change. Medication for pain or itching might also be prescribed.

To prevent problems, clean your pet’s ears as needed. Mineral oil on a cotton ball is very effective in cleaning the wax from the inside of the ear flaps and the openings to the ear canals. Be careful not to force anything deep into the canal. Be sure to work with your veterinarian to control allergies. For some dogs, it can be very helpful to instill a drying agent after baths and swimming. A product I like for this is Epi-Otic(TM). It’s also a very safe cleaning agent.

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Lower Your Heart Risk – Adopt a dog

RamboAccording to a recent study by the American Heart Association, owning a dog may protect you from heart disease, even more than other pets.

According to Rambo, guest blogger and feline extraordinaire, “Phooey.” OK Rover, so you get somebody out for a walk once in awhile which has a positive effect on the heart and reduces cholesterol and the bad fats in the blood, but that is no comparison to the cardio workout I can give someone when he tries to tries to give me a pill or catch me to put me up for the night.

I know they also suggested that dogs produce a stress-reducing sense of calm and contentment. Blood pressure and heart rate are reduced, and adrenaline-like hormone release is decreased. Yeah, but I’ll bet a dog can’t even come close to the serenity my family experiences when they come home to find speakers haven’t been shredded, shoes contain no hairballs and the curtains are dry. Now that’s bliss – and you are certainly welcome.

And what about the stockbroker study, forty-eight stressed, hypertensive stockbrokers were divided into groups. Members of the group with a dog or a cat were much calmer in stressful situation. My insider sources tell me that rumor has it that the brokers who lived with cats were even less stressed – undoubtedly because of, as anyone knows, the cat’s ability to give uncannily accurate investment advice.

If you simply want to decrease your blood pressure, lower you cholesterol get in better shape and reduce your stress, adopt a dog, but if you want all that plus the exceptional experience of living with one of God’s most extraordinary creatures, I humbly suggest that you adopt a cat. Or you can give a health promoting feline gift to your cigar smoking, beer drinking, couch potato uncle – you may save his life. Of course if you save someone’s life you are responsible for that person for the rest of your life. Hmm, maybe stick with the tie for his birthday.

Rambo, thanks for your unbiased counterpoint.

-Dr. Hunthausen

Heartworm Disease: A big threat for dogs transmitted by a small insect

BrownDogIt’s springtime again and along with the warmer weather (OK, at least it’s supposed to be warmer) we’ll soon be seeing the emergence of mosquitoes. Besides being highly annoying little drones, they can also transmit a very dangerous parasite – the canine heartworm.  Heartworms cause a lot of damage and infestations can be fatal.  They used to be a problem almost exclusively in the south eastern United States, but their range has rapidly increased and the parasite has now been identified in all 50 states.  

The adult parasites live in the heart and major blood vessels of the lungs. They produce microscopic larvae which circulate in the dog’s blood stream. When a mosquito takes a blood meal, it will also ingest heartworm larvae, and when it bites another dog the larvae are transmitted,  Within 6 months the tiny larvae grow to be adults (8 to 10 inches) in the heart and blood vessels and the cycle begins again.

Early in the disease, the dog may not show any symptoms, but as it progresses, the heart is impaired and arterial walls are damaged.  Blood vessels may become blocked either by the worms themselves or by blood clots.  Blockage of large vessels can cause death, sometimes very suddenly. Signs of infection include coughing (sometimes bloody), weight loss, poor exercise tolerance, difficulty breathing, fainting and general wasting.  To complicate matters, heartworm larvae occasionally carry a parasite of their own known as Wolbachia which can exacerbate heartworm disease.

Treatment is available, but is expensive and can be risky especially if the pet is in an advanced stage and showing advanced signs.  During the course of treating for heartworms, veterinarians often concurrently treat with an antibiotic to kill the Wolbachia.

Fortunately, safe, effective medications are available to prevent the disease. Medication should be given once a month, year round.   Preventative medication kills larvae, but not the adults so it’s important to have a test for adults performed before starting a preventative medication and then, every year thereafter. Another benefit of giving heartworm preventative year round even outside of the mosquito season, is that almost all heartworm preventatives also prevent infestation by a variety of intestinal worms.

To find out more, go to:  www.heartwormsociety.org