Ear problems need further examination, tests

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How can I tell if my dog’s ear problem is an infection or an
allergy? Mooch is a setter and he’s had ear problems for two years.
He’s been to the vet at least a half dozen times and each time,
they clean them, clip the fur around them, and send us home with
some ointment. Seems like we’re going in a circle and Moochie will
never get better. Any suggestions?
Q: How can I tell if my dog’s ear problem is an infection or an allergy? Mooch is a setter and he’s had ear problems for two years. He’s been to the vet at least a half dozen times and each time, they clean them, clip the fur around them, and send us home with some ointment. Seems like we’re going in a circle and Moochie will never get better. Any suggestions?

A:

Time for Mooch and you to get a second opinion to eliminate your frustration. You haven’t said whether or not his vet ran tests, but there are several diagnostics that can help to determine the nature of Mooch’s ear problem. The easiest is to take a swab of the canal and look under the microscope to see if there are bacteria, yeast or other organisms in his ear. If this is a bacterial infection, a culture and sensitivity test will determine the correct choice of antibiotic. Many of the bacteria that infect ears are resistant to common antibiotics used in some ear medications. Sometimes oral antibiotics (pills) are prescribed. These can be used along with ear drops or ointments in recurring infections to more effectively attack the problem.

If his ear is infected with yeast, he’ll need a completely different medication. And no matter what the cause, a thorough ear flushing, not just a simple cleaning, is necessary before starting treatments. Flushing removes all the debris and requires sedation or anesthesia because it’s a little uncomfortable. But all that waxy buildup must be removed because it traps infection and makes effective treatment almost impossible.

Allergies might also be the root of his ear problems. If so, allergy treatments are very different from those used for infections. Your vet probably asked if Mooch shows any other allergic symptoms. Does he lick his feet a lot? Does he have itchy skin? Are any of his symptoms seasonal?

If the vet hasn’t asked these questions or done any of these tests, you should request another visit or seek a second opinion from someone else. A veterinary dermatologist might be the best choice. Most ear problems can be overcome, albeit with persistent and diligent treatment. But it’s important to determine the source of the problem first. And a few simple tests will help to do this and get Mooch on a path to healthy and comfortable ears.

Q:

I know that cows have a different digestive tract that allows them to eat hay and grasses. Do horses have the same kind of digestion? Are horses different that cows?

A:

Horses eat the same roughage that cows and other ruminants enjoy. But they digest it a little differently. They don’t have a four-compartment stomach like cows, sheep and goats. Their stomach is a more simple, single compartment.

Instead, they have a specialized portion of their digestive tract called the cecum. The cecum is similar to our appendix; it’s a dead-end pouch that comes off the digestive tract right where the small intestine connects to the large intestine. The human cecum is small and not very active. But in horses and other cecal fermenters (rabbits, guinea pigs and a few others), the cecum is very large and contains a lot of microorganisms that help digest of hay and grass. Simple stomach animals (dogs and cats) and humans just can’t digest roughage with their very rudimentary digestive system.

How large is the cecum of a horse? Well, it’s about 3 feet long and 1 foot wide, spanning a large area of the right side of the horse’s abdomen. It continually contracts to mix all the food with digestive fluids. These contractions occur about every minute, and they make a lot of noise! Put your ear up to the right side of a horse, and you’ll easily hear him digesting his food. That growling, rumbling sound you hear is called borborygmus (try using that term in a sentence at a neighborhood barbecue!). With horses, borborygmus means that the digestive tract is happy and healthy.

Q:

Can you tell me if birds will eat cat food. My sister leaves food out for her cat all the time. She says they like it better than bird seed. Is it harmful to the birds?

A:

Wow, better than bird seed, eh? If this were the only food source for these birds, I might worry about the nutritional balance. But songbirds, ravens and jays are scavengers, so I’m sure they’re eating other food elsewhere. Your sister’s kitty food probably won’t be harmful, but it’s a rather expensive way to feed the flock. Furthermore, I’d be worried that it might attract the neighborhood cats who might hunt down an unsuspecting bird that thinks he has a friendly place for a snack. Besides that, she might also get a visit from other unwanted wild critters. Raccoons, possums and even skunks might show up some evening and – believe me – they’re not the kind of guests she would want in her home! I’d suggest she stick to using birdseed.

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