Don’t wash away the evidence!
It is not unusual to hear, “Doctor, Fluffy’s ears have been bothering her for several weeks. There has been a lot of discharge and odor. I cleaned her ears really well last night so you could see in there better. Can you tell me what’s causing that?”
Usually, the answer is, “I could if I had the evidence. You did an excellent job of cleaning Fluffy’s ears, but we needed that discharge for cytology in order to make an accurate diagnosis.”
Regular, frequent ear cleaning is crucial for prevention of otitis. Therefore, be sure to leave the “evidence” for your pet’s doctor to see and test. The discharge in your dog or cat’s ears must be tested in order to obtain an accurate diagnosis and specific treatment.
Thorough cleaning, here’s how, is also crucial before beginning treatment for ear problems. Failure to remove discharge prior to beginning a treatment regimen is dooming the therapy to failure. The one exception to this rule is an ear which too painful to clean. Such ears need to be allowed to “cool down” with a few days of appropriate medication first.
Another common error pet owners make with ears is waiting too long to bring the pet in for diagnostics and treatment. We recommend that you perform a home examination of your pet frequently. Too often we evaluate pets for a “well-patient” visit, only to find that the ears are in really bad shape. This condition could have been detected by the pet owner long before so much suffering went on. Odor is usually one of the earliest signals that a pet’s ears are in trouble. If you detect an odor from your dog or cat, be sure to lift the pinna and have a look around. If you see a small amount of discharge, it’s perfectly acceptable to clean the ears and determine whether the problem recurs. If your pet experiences significant pain during ear cleaning, STOP. Pain is reason enough to take him to see his doctor.
A large volume of ear discharge is also sufficient reason to see the veterinarian. If the volume is great, it is unlikely that cleaning alone will clear the problem.
Pus in the ears is another reason to warrant proceeding directly to the veterinary hospital. Pus can be white, creamy or bloody. If you are not sure, see the doctor.
Ideally, we would like to have the ears uncleaned for three to seven days in order to have enough “evidence” for an accurate diagnosis.
The key to prevention of recurrent ear problems is to clean your pet’s ears at least once each week, and every time he has a bath, swim or any exposure to water.
See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.
To read more of Dr. Randolph’s writings on Dermatology, click here.