Ear and Eye Care:
A healthy pet must have healthy eyes and ears. The eyes and ears are only small body parts, but troubles with these organs will make your pet's life miserable. Depending on the cause, problems may be limited to either the ears or the eyes, or both can be involved. In addition, chronic eye or ear problems may indicate that there is disease elsewhere in your pet's body. Eye or ear problems should never be ignored and should be identified as rapidly as possible.
The best way to recognize ear or eye problems is to inspect your pet every day. By examining your pet daily, you will learn to identify normal eyes and ears. Then you will be able to spot changes that may signal trouble. Looking at your pet every day helps you to locate and identify small changes before they become big problems. The few minutes that you spend checking the ears and eyes can prevent major, expensive problems caused by ear and eye diseases that are allowed to linger unnoticed.
If your pet will not sit still for a quick eye and ear examination, use positive reinforcement and food rewards to train the animal to sit quietly while you handle its head and ears. This exam should take only a matter of moments and most cats and dogs will sit for a treat. It may take several days or even a few weeks to train your pet to sit still while you touch its head and ears, but the training is well worth it in the long-run, especially if the animal will eventually need eye or ear treatments.
So, what do you look for? Although every pet has slight differences in its normal anatomy, some generalizations hold true. For example, healthy eyes are bright and clear. Both eyes look approximately the same size and are held open. There is no cloudiness to block the pet's vision. Both pupils are the same size and react to light. There should not be any tears or drainage spilling out of the eyes and onto the face. The lining of the eyes, called the conjunctiva, should be a pale, healthy pink, not red or inflamed. There should not be debris accumulated in the corner of the eyes, and the skin and hair around the eyes should be clear and free of accumulated material. The third eyelid should lie flat across the lower, inner corner of the eye, and have no swellings or bumps.
Signs of an eye problem vary tremendously, and may include cloudiness, tearing, squinting, discharge, redness, blinking, swelling, an increase in the number or size of blood vessels, or changes in the size of the eye or pupils. Pets may rub a sore eye on the carpet or furniture, or paw at their eyes in an attempt to relieve itching and irritation. The skin around the eye may become inflamed, crusted, or be missing hair. Almost any eye problem can cause similar signs, so the cause of the problem cannot be determined by the signs. The signs are simply a signal that something is wrong and attention is needed.
Any changes in the eyes should be reported at once to the veterinarian. Eye problems that are promptly diagnosed and rapidly treated often respond quickly to therapy. Those that are ignored or improperly treated may continue to worsen and even lead to blindness. New eye problems should not be treated with old medications from previous eye problems or with medications from other pets, and should not be treated with over-the-counter human eye medications without the advice of the pet's veterinarian. Your veterinarian may use special instruments and drops during the examination and prescribe special eye ointments or drops.
Different pets require different home eye care. Your veterinarian can advise you as to the proper daily care required for your type of pet. The type of care is determined by factors such as the breed, the age, facial anatomy, previous health conditions, and the amount of hair on the face. In general, animals with flat faces and hair near their eyes need daily cleaning and rinsing of the eyes with a sterile eye wash or wipes. Those with longer faces and short hair may not require daily cleaning. So a flat-faced, long-haired Persian cat may need the hair near the eyes trimmed frequently and the eyes rinsed each day, while a Labrador retriever may require no care except for a quick examination. Several types of dogs, such as smaller poodles and terriers, and breeds such as the Maltese, tend to have tears that spill down over the lower eyelid and onto the face. These animals should be examined by the veterinarian to ensure that there is no medical or surgical therapy that can correct the condition. If not, daily eye care with a rinsing and stain removing agent can help soothe the eyes and clean the face.
Eye care will change as your pet ages. Very young pets may require surgery to correct anatomical abnormalities that interfere with vision or endanger the cornea. Older animals may develop problems that are not seen in younger pets. For example, older eyes may produce fewer tears, requiring treatment with lubricants. Some older pets may develop cataracts that require surgery. The veterinarian will examine your pet's eyes during the annual wellness examination, but any changes in an older pet's eyes should prompt an additional visit to the veterinarian. Serious eye problems in an animal of any age may even require referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist.
Like the eyes, each pet has slightly different ear anatomy, but daily examination will allow you to become accustomed to your pet's normal ear so you will be able to identify any changes. Typically, ears should be free of unpleasant odors or discharge. The ear should not be painful, so your pet should allow you to glance into the ear without making a fuss. The ear flap should be of uniform thickness and not swollen, red, bumpy, or crusted. The ear canal should be a healthy, pinkish color and the lining should be smooth and free of exudate or crusts. You will not be able to see very far into the canal, but you should be able to tell that the ear canal is open and clear.
Signs of an ear problem may include changes in the ear or flap, or changes in your pet's behavior. Ear problems are often painful and itchy, so affected animals may yelp when the ear is touched, rub their heads on the floor or couch, run when you approach their heads, scratch at their heads with their paws, shake their heads, lose their appetite, and lick the paw that is used to scratch the ear. Changes in the ear may include an abnormal odor, a discharge of any color, and any bumps, lumps, debris, or crusts. Any of these signs could indicate an ear problem and should be reported to your veterinarian.
Your veterinarian can help determine if your pet needs prescription medications or ear cleaning with over-the-counter medications. Your veterinarian will use special instruments during the examination and may need to sedate the pet for accurate diagnosis and treatment. Correct diagnosis is essential for proper treatment, so your veterinarian may need to examine a swab of ear debris under the microscope, do a culture and sensitivity to check for bacteria, flush the ears while the pet is sedated, and prescribe medications. Your veterinarian may also want to check for other diseases that accompany ear problems, such as parasitic infestations, thyroid disease, and allergies.
Although all pets should have their ears examined daily, different breeds of animals require different amounts of ear care. The type of home care will depend on ear anatomy, the length and type of ear flap, and predisposing factors such as allergies and chronic ear problems. For example, most cats have erect ear flaps and ears that require minimal attention. But a dog with long, pendulous ear flaps, such as a Basset hound, may require daily cleaning and drying. A pet that has had multiple ear infections as a youngster may have chronic changes in the ear canal demanding daily care, while one that had no ear problems when younger continues to maintain a healthy ear throughout its life. And a dog that swims daily may need the ears dried every single day to prevent infection. Finally, a pet that spends time outdoors may require a fly repellent to prevent biting insects from attacking tender ears. Each pet is an individual and care must be customized to the pet's needs.
Many dogs benefit from routine home ear care and cleaning. After your veterinarian has given your pet a clean bill of health, home ear care will keep the ear dry, prevent excessive bacteria and yeast growth, and help prevent infections. When cleaning with an over-the-counter product, follow label directions exactly. A liquid de-waxing agent may be used first, followed by a cleanser, or a combination product may be used. Some ears can be easily cleaned with pre-moistened ear wipes.
A typical ear cleaning starts with instilling the liquid product into the ear canal. The ear is then massaged from the outside to distribute the product. Following the massage, the outer ear canal is wiped clean with gauze or cotton. Do not use a cotton-tipped swab and do not attempt to reach deeply into the canal. The de-waxing and cleaning solution will loosen the deep debris so it is flushed up and out of the canal. Simply continue to wipe the outer portion of the canal until the dirt and debris are removed. If you have questions, your veterinarian or groomer can show you the proper technique.
Proper ear and eye care is not a luxury for a few pampered pets. It is a necessity to keep your pet healthy and happy throughout its life. A few short moments each day spent examining and treating your pet's ears and eyes will allow your pet to stay healthy. After all, they need their eyes and ears to see and hear the people that love them.
Dr. Jane Leon