DogTraining101
Any Breed - Any Age - Any Problem

Ear and Eye Health

 Uveodermatologic Syndrome in Dogs

Uveodermatologic syndrome is a rare disease in which the dog’s immune system forms antibodies against its own pigment cells in the skin and light-sensing cells in the back of the eye. It causes red, painful eyes, skin depigmentation on the face and footpads, and premature whitening of the hair. Because the skin and hair issues are cosmetic, treatment focuses on the eye problems, which are typically ongoing and can lead to permanent blindness.

Overview

In humans, a condition known as Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada syndrome produces eye, skin, and nervous system symptoms. Uveodermatologic syndrome is the canine counterpart to this human disease complex; however, most dogs do not have nervous system signs.

Affected dogs usually experience eye problems, including uveitis (inflammation of a layer of the eye), vitiligo (skin depigmentation), and a premature whitening of the hair (poliosis). It’s important to understand that the worst-case scenario for the skin is merely cosmetic, while that for the eyes is much worse: blindness.

The cause is believed to be related to the immune system’s destruction of cells in the retina of the eye and melanocytes (pigment-making cells) the skin and hair. It’s been postulated that a virus may trigger the process. Exposure to sunlight may exacerbate the problem.

Symptoms and Identification

Most dogs initially present signs related to eye discomfort. Painful, red eyes are common, and dogs may be sensitive to bright light. Vision changes are often noted when dogs begin to bump into things. Constricted pupils and clouding of the eyes are typical as well.

Many affected dogs will have vitiligo (depigmentation of the skin) — most evident on the nose, lips, eyelids, footpads, and scrotum, vulva, and anus. These areas should be biopsied to help achieve a definitive diagnosis.

Affected Breeds

Akitas, Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, and Samoyeds are most commonly affected.

Treatment

Treatment is directed at the uveitis affecting the eyes. Systemic immunosuppressive drugs are typically prescribed along with topical treatments for the eyes.

In general, dogs with uveodermatologic syndrome have ongoing and serious eye issues, requiring treatment for months or years. The eye problems tend to recur, and irreversible blindness is common. Aggressive therapy to subdue the immune system can help relieve the inflammation in the eyes and slow the progression of vision impairment.

 

Eye Discharge

  • Some pets produce more tears than others, so increased wetness of the eye is not always a medical problem.
  • Eye discharge becomes a problem when it is excessive, abnormal, or accompanied by other signs of a problem (such as squinting, rubbing, or sneezing).
  • Depending on the cause of the eye discharge, drops or ointments applied directly to the eye are effective in many cases.

What Is Eye Discharge?

Eye discharge can refer to any type of fluid that comes from the eye. Most healthy pets have eyes that are clear, bright, and have minimal discharge. However, some types of eye discharge are completely normal. Each time your pet blinks, tears are released from tear ducts and bathe the surface of the eye to provide moisture and deliver oxygen and nutrients. Some pets produce more tears than others, so increased wetness of the eye is not always a medical problem. Some pets can also have crusty material at the corners of their eyes when they wake up. This is usually easy to clean with a damp tissue and is not considered a problem in most cases.

Tear staining occurs in some dogs and cats. Animal tears contain components that can cause brown staining of the fur around the eyes. In pets with light-colored fur, this discoloration can be more noticeable than in pets with darker fur. Tear staining is not generally considered a medical problem but can sometimes be minimized by keeping the facial fur trimmed close and wiping the eyes daily with a damp tissue to remove excess material. If tear staining is excessive, ask your veterinarian about other management options.

When Is Eye Discharge a Problem?

Eye discharge becomes a problem when it is excessive, abnormal, or accompanied by other signs of a problem. A small amount of clear discharge can be considered normal, but excessive tearing or consistent watering should be investigated. Normally, tears produced around the eyes drain out of the nose, through the nasolacrimal ducts. Occasionally, these ducts can become blocked, causing the clear discharge to spill out onto the face.

Similarly, discharge that becomes thick or starts to look like mucus or pus can indicate an eye infection or other problem. Even if eye discharge does not seem excessive or abnormal, if it is accompanied by other clinical signs such as squinting, sneezing, or rubbing the eyes with a paw or against other objects (such as furniture or the floor) this can indicate an eye infection or other problem. Eye discharge can also occur with some systemic illnesses (illnesses that affect the entire body), such as an upper respiratory tract infection.

Dogs and cats that have short, flat noses or “pushed-in” faces, like Persian cats and Pekingese dogs, sometimes have folds of skin on their faces (right under the eyes) that become moist and infected from being consistently wet from tears. Also, the hair on their faces sometimes brushes the surface of the eyes, scraping against the cornea (the clear covering of the surface of the eye) and causing irritation and increased eye discharge.

Dry eye is a condition in which tear production is too low to keep the surface of the eye moist. Instead of tears bathing the cornea with each blink, the inner eyelids scrape against the cornea, causing trauma and irritation. Pets with dry eye tend to develop a thick white or green discharge from the eyes in response to the cornea becoming excessively dry and irritated. These pets may also squint or rub their eyes because dry eye can be painful.

Irritating airborne substances can cause redness, excessive watering, and other problems with the eyes. Common airborne irritants include cigarette smoke, dust, dirt, pollen, and sprays/perfumes used around the home.

How Is Eye Discharge Diagnosed?

Medical history and physical examination findings can provide valuable information for your veterinarian. Medical history may include trying to determine how long the eye discharge has been present and whether any other signs of illness have been observed. Physical examination findings may reveal evidence of underlying illness.

If the pet is squinting because the eyes are painful, your veterinarian may begin the eye examination by applying a drop of liquid topical anesthetic directly to the eye. This is not painful, and after a few minutes it makes the surface of the eye numb so examination can proceed. During examination, your veterinarian will likely look for redness, puffiness, foreign bodies, wounds, or other changes that may explain the eye discharge.

While examining your pet’s eyes, your veterinarian may also perform tests to make sure your pet’s tear production is adequate, to check the cornea for scratches or other injuries, and to determine if the nasolacrimal ducts are blocked.

How Is Eye Discharge Treated?

If your pet has an infection or inflammation involving the eyes, drops or ointments applied directly to the eyes are effective in most cases. If tear production is inadequate (as with dry eye), long-term medication may be recommended to control the problem. If the nasolacrimal ducts are blocked, flushing them with sterile eyewash may help clear any obstructions.

Certain grooming practices, such as keeping the hair on the face trimmed closer, can help reduce tear staining and minimize contact of facial hair for dogs and cats that have flat faces.

If your pet does not tolerate dust, cigarette smoke, and other airborne irritants, your veterinarian can help you devise a plan for reducing these irritants around your home.

Corneal Ulcers

The clear front covering of the eye, known as the cornea, is a delicate structure. As such, corneal ulcers can result from trauma to the eye or one of many medical conditions that affect the eye. Both dogs and cats can get a corneal ulcer. If your pet blinks excessively, squints, paws at his eyes, seems sensitive to light, or has redness or swelling in one or both eyes, he could have this condition. Most corneal ulcers respond to drops or ointment put right in the eye. Sometimes surgery is indicated to help protect the cornea as it heals.

Overview

The cornea is the thin, transparent layer of cells on the front of the eye. The cells that make up the cornea are very fragile so that anything that rubs, scrapes, or irritates the eye can damage them or rub some of them off. When this happens, we refer to it as corneal ulceration. Corneal ulceration can occur if the eye is irritated by chemicals, dust, or inadequate tear production. Trauma, such as scratching, can also cause a corneal ulcer. In addition, some viral infections, such as feline herpes virus infection, can cause corneal irritation and ulceration.

Corneal ulceration is also caused by two very common conditions worth mentioning at the outset:

Entropion is a medical condition in which the pet’s eyelids roll inward and the eyelashes or other hairs (which are normally on the outside of the eyelid) are pulled underneath, where they can scrape against the cornea. This can lead to corneal ulceration.

Dry eye: Tears are a natural lubricant for the eye. When the eye doesn’t produce enough tears, the cornea can become irritated, and eventually, a corneal ulcer can form. This condition is commonly called dry eye, but the medical term is keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS).

There are two types of ulcerations: superficial, which affects only a small amount of the top layer of the cornea, and deep, which extends deeper into the layers of the cornea and can result in severe scarring and even eye rupture.

Most cases of corneal ulceration heal without complication when treated promptly. If treatment is delayed, bacteria and other pathogens, such as viruses and fungi, get an opportunity to cause infection, which can further complicate the condition.

Without proper treatment, or with severe injury, corneal damage can lead to vision-compromising scarring or even blindness. If the eye is severely damaged, surgical removal of the eye may be recommended to prevent the pet from suffering constant pain and chronic infection.

Symptoms and Identification

Corneal ulcers are extremely painful. Animals with this condition may squint, rub their eyes, or tear excessively. Sometimes, a thick mucous discharge can develop. Clinical signs of corneal ulceration also include:

  • Closed eyelids
  • Tearing, swelling, redness of the eyes
  • Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the membranes lining the eye)
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Pawing or rubbing at the eye

If the ulceration is severe, permanent damage to the cornea or rupture can occur so that blindness results.
Diagnosis of corneal ulceration is usually based on physical examination findings. If a pet is squinting because his/her eyes hurt, a veterinarian will often begin the examination by applying a drop of liquid topical anesthetic directly to the eye. This is not painful, and after a few minutes, it numbs the surface of the eye so the examination can proceed. During the examination, the veterinarian will also look for foreign material, abnormal hairs, or other causes of irritation. Entropion can also be diagnosed during the physical examination.

While examining the pet’s eyes, the veterinarian will often instill fluorescein stain. Fluorescein is a green-tinted dye that fluoresces (glows) under blue light. If the surface of the cornea is intact, the fluorescein dye will not stick to the eye. However, if there is a scratch, ulcer, or wound on the cornea, the dye adheres to the defect and can show your veterinarian where and how serious the injury is. Fluorescein staining is not painful and can provide valuable information about the condition of a pet’s eye.

Testing to determine if tear production is adequate is typical in cases where dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca) is suspected.

Affected Breeds

Any dog or cat can develop a corneal ulcer. Dog breeds predisposed to dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca) include Boston Terriers, Bull Terriers, English Bulldogs, and English and American Cocker Spaniels.

Entropion can be an issue for many dog breeds including Akitas, American Staffordshire Terriers, Pekingese, Pomeranians, pugs, Shih Tzus, Great Danes, Saint Bernards, and Newfoundlands.

Treatment

Most corneal ulcers respond well to specially formulated antibiotic eye drops or ointment applied directly to the patient’s eye. If the underlying problem is dry eye (KCS), additional therapy can be initiated to help improve the condition. If the underlying cause is entropion, surgical correction may be recommended.

If the corneal ulcer is very deep or very large, other measures may be recommended, including an eye patch or surgery to temporarily cover (and protect) the surface of the cornea.

Prevention

Some cases of corneal ulceration are preventable. For example, monitoring pets during play and exercise to reduce the risk of trauma to the eye, and keeping pets current on vaccinations against diseases like feline herpesvirus can reduce the likelihood of developing corneal ulceration associated with these causes.

 Conjunctivitis in Dogs

Dogs and cats alike can be affected by conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the tissues surrounding the inner eyelids and white part of the eyes that sometimes accompanies a respiratory infection or eye injury. It can also be brought on by airborne irritants, dry eye, or a more serious illness such as canine distemper or feline herpesvirus.

Symptoms include goopy or bloodshot eyes, swollen eyelids, and rubbing of the eyes. Treatment ranges from eye drops and ointments to surgery in rare cases.

Overview

Conjunctivitis is the medical term used to describe inflammation of the conjunctiva — the soft tissues that line the inside of the eyelids and the white portion of the eye.

Conjunctivitis can occur as part of an upper respiratory tract infection, a condition that resembles a common cold. It can also be associated with a localized problem that causes trauma to or irritation of the eyes. Causes include:

  • Airborne irritants, such as cigarette smoke, dust, and perfumes
  • Systemic illnesses (illnesses that affect the whole body), such as feline herpesvirus, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), canine distemper, and bartonellosis (infection with the bacteria that cause “cat scratch disease” in humans)
  • Dry eye (aka, keratoconjunctivitis sicca) a medical condition characterized by inadequate tear production)
  • Entropion (a malformation of the eyelids that causes the edges of the lids to roll inward; the hairs on the eyelids scrape against the eye and cause irritation)
  • Trauma to the eye, such as a blow

The severity of conjunctivitis will vary dramatically from case to case. Only rarely will blindness result.

Symptoms and Identification

The clinical signs of conjunctivitis vary depending on the severity of the inflammation. Signs include:

  • Discharge from the eyes (can be pus, watery, or thick, like mucus)
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Red, “bloodshot” eyes
  • Squinting
  • Rubbing the eyes with a paw or against other objects, such as furniture or the floor

If the conjunctivitis is severe, permanent damage to the cornea (the clear covering on the surface of the eye) can occur.
The medical history and physical examination findings can provide valuable information for your veterinarian. The medical history may include trying to determine how long the conjunctivitis has been going on and whether any other signs of illness have been observed. Physical examination findings may reveal evidence of underlying illness. For example, a cat with an upper respiratory tract infection may have a runny nose, sneezing, and a fever in addition to conjunctivitis.

Diagnosis of conjunctivitis is usually based on physical examination findings. If a pet is squinting because his/her eyes are painful, a veterinarian will often begin the examination by applying a drop of liquid topical anesthetic directly to the eye. This is not painful, and after a few minutes, it numbs the surface of the eye so the examination can proceed. During the examination, the veterinarian will likely look for foreign material, wounds, or other causes of conjunctivitis. Entropion can also be diagnosed during the physical examination.

While examining the pet’s eyes, the veterinarian will often instill fluorescein stain. Fluorescein is a green-tinted dye that fluoresces (glows) under blue light. If the surface of the cornea is intact, the fluorescein dye will not stick to the eye. However, if there is a scratch, ulcer, or wound on the cornea, the dye adheres to the defect and can show your veterinarian where and how serious the injury is. Fluorescein staining is not painful and can provide valuable information about the condition of a pet’s eye.

Testing to determine if tear production is adequate is typical in cases where dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca) is suspected. Similarly, if a systemic illness (such as FIV) is suspected, blood testing or other diagnostic tests may be recommended.

Affected Breeds

Any dog or cat can develop conjunctivitis.

Treatment

Most cases of conjunctivitis are treated with drops or ointments applied directly to the eyes. If the conjunctivitis is associated with another illness, like an upper respiratory infection, antibiotics or other medication given by mouth may also be recommended. In many cases, the eye starts looking better after only a few treatments. However, all medications should be given as directed for the full course of treatment.

If the conjunctivitis is associated with entropion, surgery may be recommended to correct the deformed eyelid. Similarly, if a pet has dry eye, long-term management may be recommended to control the condition.

A veterinarian will typically recommend recheck exams during the course of treatment to monitor how well the condition is responding to therapy. Rarely, a pet will require surgery to remove the eye to prevent further pain, inflammation, and infection.

Prevention

Many causes of conjunctivitis are preventable. For example, minimizing exposure to airborne irritants like cigarette smoke, monitoring pets during play and exercise to reduce the risk of trauma to the eye, and keeping pets current on vaccinations against diseases that can cause conjunctivitis, such as feline herpes virus and canine distemper can reduce the likelihood of developing conjunctivitis associated with these causes.

Prolapsed Gland of the Nictitans (Cherry Eye)

The third eyelid, or the nictitating membrane, is that little triangle in the inner corner of the eye under which a tear gland lives. With some dogs, that gland is displaced, resulting in a condition known as “cherry eye” — so called because the protruding gland become inflamed and sits atop the third eyelid like a rosy fruit. Almost always, surgery is needed to secure the gland back in its natural place.

Overview

The nictitating membrane is a triangular flap of tissue at the inner corner of the eye that’s often referred to as the third eyelid. The entire structure, designed for protection and lubrication of the surface of the eye, includes a flap of cartilage for support and a tear gland located beneath the surface of the lower eyelid.

When the tear gland flips upward (prolapses) out of its normal position under the eyelid and becomes inflamed, the pink, bulbous protrusion that results at the corner of the eye is descriptively referred to as a “cherry eye.”

If untreated, a prolapsed gland of the third eyelid may lead to chronic irritation of the cornea and conjunctiva. In most untreated cases, dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca or KCS) can also result due to decreased tear production. This latter condition can actually progress to severe corneal ulceration and blindness.

Although this ocular condition of canines has not been definitively determined to be hereditary in origin, it’s nonetheless clear that some breeds are predisposed. A complex pattern of inheritance that determines eye conformation is most likely at the genetic root of this problem.

Symptoms and Identification

This condition is very easy to identify, even by non-veterinarians, due to its location and impressive appearance. Dogs will usually experience this prolapse as puppies, most often before 2 years of age. One or both eyes may be affected.

Affected Breeds

The Beagle, Boston Terrier, Bulldog (all breeds), Cocker Spaniel, and Lhasa Apso are all considered predisposed breeds.

Treatment

A prolapsed gland of the third eyelid typically requires surgical treatment. In some very mild cases, a veterinarian or ophthalmologist may successfully replace the gland into its proper position without surgery, but this is atypical. Replacing the gland and surgically securing it in place is almost always necessary. Unfortunately, recurrence of the prolapse will sometimes occur following surgery, necessitating another procedure.

While surgical removal of the gland is still performed by way of treating cherry eyes, this is no longer considered the ideal approach due to the loss of the gland’s tear-producing ability. A high percentage of cases treated this way develop dry eye.

Both general practitioners, veterinary surgeons, and veterinary ophthalmologists can be adept at this procedure. It’s nonetheless important to keep in mind that specialists tend to offer a lower rate of post-surgical recurrence due to their greater experience treating this condition.

Prevention

Based on assumptions as to how this trait may be inherited, all dogs who develop a prolapsed gland of the third eyelid should be spayed and neutered to prevent its propagation.

Optic Nerve Hypoplasia

Optic nerve hypoplasia is a rare neurological disease in which one or both optic nerves are underdeveloped, preventing the animal from seeing normally. Any dog or cat can have optic nerve hypoplasia, though some dogs are thought to inherit the condition. It can occur in one or both eyes, and an owner might notice that his pet doesn’t see well or might not notice any vision impairment at all. There is no treatment for the disease, and affected animals will live a lifetime with a degree of sight impairment.

Overview

The optic nerves — located at the back of the eyes where they establish a direct connection to the brain — are necessary for vision. Optic nerve hypoplasia is a condition that uncommonly affects the optic nerves of cats and dogs. In this disorder, a failure of the optic nerve to develop fully leads to a variable degree of vision reduction (or even blindness) in one or both eyes.

In some cases, the eyes of affected animals are otherwise normal. In other instances, the eyes are malformed in a variety of ways. In all cases, the optic nerves are smaller than they should be, and contain fewer nerve axons. Beyond an understanding of its genetic origins, exactly how this disease occurs is not well understood.

In kittens, optic nerve hypoplasia may occur as a result of panleukopenia (feline distemper) infection while they are in the uterus. These animals will typically show other neurologic signs as well.

Symptoms and Identification

Diagnosis usually occurs incidentally in the course of normal ophthalmic evaluation or because vision impairment is suspected. The animal may exhibit previously unrecognized evidence of vision impairment in one or both eyes, display dilated pupils in the affected eyes, and fail to respond normally to light. Confirmation of the diagnosis occurs through fundoscopic examination (looking at the back of the eye with a lens) where the presence of a smaller-than-normal optic disc may be visualized.

Severely affected (completely blind) animals are typically diagnosed soon after birth.

Affected Breeds

Optic nerve hypoplasia appears to be genetic in Poodles.

Treatment

No treatment is available for this condition.

Prevention

Affected and carrier individuals should be removed from the breeding pool.

Ear Infection in Dogs

  • Chronic ear infections may involve bacterial or yeast overgrowth in the external, middle, or inner ear.
  • Chronic infection can permanently damage the ear canal and cause pain, neurological signs, and deafness.
  • Ear infections are usually secondary to an underlying condition that allows for an unhealthy ear environment. Treatment is based on eliminating the bacteria or yeast with antibiotics or anti-fungal medication while working to resolve the underlying condition.
  • Regular ear cleanings and resolution of the underlying condition help to prevent recurrence.

What Is a Chronic Ear Infection?

Ear infections are usually secondary to inflammation of the external ear canals (the tube-shaped part of the ear visible under the ear flap). Inflammation of the canals leads to the reproduction of normal bacteria and yeast that live in the ear to the point where the body is unable to control their numbers (called overgrowth). Other bacteria can also take advantage of the inflammation and unhealthy environment inside the ear to establish infection. The overgrowth of these organisms causes more inflammation. Inflammation of the ear canal causes swelling, making the tube narrower than usual. Inflammation also causes an increase in the production of wax. The ears become very itchy and painful. Severe ear infections can lead to eardrum rupture and middle and inner ear infections. Deep infections can lead to deafness and neurological signs.

Certain disorders or diseases may be the primary reason ear infections develop. These conditions include:

  • Allergies (environmental and food)
  • Ear mites
  • Foreign bodies
  • Skin disorders (like seborrhea)
  • Thyroid disease (in dogs)
  • Tumors or polyps in the ear

Ear infections may recur because of the inability to control the original infection or treat the underlying cause. Chronic changes lead to future infections, and scar tissue and permanent narrowing of the ear canals can make future infections difficult to treat.

What Are the Signs of an Ear Infection?

An external ear infection first shows signs of local inflammation (redness, discharge). Pets may shake their heads, scratch their ears, or rub their ears against furniture or the floor. Some pets with severe infections may cry or groan as they rub and scratch their ears. Some pets scratch so severely that their nails create wounds on the skin around their face, neck, and ears.

External ear infections may progress to involve the middle and inner ear, leading to more serious signs of disease:

  • External ear infection (otitis externa)
  • Itchy or painful ears
  • Head shaking
  • Discharge and odor from the ears
  • Narrowing or even closing of the canals
  • Middle ear infection (otitis media)
  • Paralysis of the nerves in the face
  • Dry eye
  • Hearing loss
  • Abnormal pupil size
  • Inner ear infection (otitis interna)
  • Inability to keep balance, stand, or walk
  • Nausea
  • Head tilt

How Is an Ear Infection Diagnosed and Treated?

During a physical examination, your veterinarian will look in the ear for the presence of inflammation, redness, discharge, growths, or other findings that may indicate an ear infection. Sometimes, a cotton swab is used to collect debris from the ear. This material can be placed on a slide and examined under a microscope to determine if the infection is due to yeast, bacteria, or mites. Your veterinarian may also collect a sample of ear debris for culture and sensitivity testing, which identifies the exact organisms present and helps your veterinarian select the best antibiotic to use.

In severe cases, or if the animal is in too much pain to permit an examination of the ears, sedation may be needed to evaluate the ears, collect samples of discharge, clean the ears, and initiate treatment. With the pet sedated, the ears can be gently flushed to remove debris and facilitate better examination of the ear. Radiographs (X-rays) and other diagnostic tests can be performed while the pet is sedated to determine if the middle or inner ear are also involved.

Once the infection has been identified, most animals with chronic ear infections can be treated at home. Ear mites are relatively easy to treat with medication placed directly into the ear or applied topically between the shoulder blades. Most yeast and bacterial infections can be treated with regular cleanings and topical or oral medication. When inflammation is severe, a steroid may be needed to give comfort to your pet and decrease the swelling around the ear canals.

If there are underlying problems such as thyroid disease or seborrhea, these must also be addressed to clear the infection and reduce the chances of recurrence.

If the ear canals have been permanently narrowed or damage is otherwise severe, surgery may be recommended to allow for drainage and application of medication. In other cases, more extensive surgery may be recommended to prevent the pet from being in chronic pain due to a permanently deformed, infected ear.

How Can Ear Infections Be Prevented?

Once an infection has been cleared, maintaining a healthy ear environment with regular cleaning helps prevent recurrence. Unfortunately, regular cleaning isn’t always enough. Underlying diseases such as allergies and skin disorders must be identified and resolved in order to help avoid future infections.

Ear Mites

Imagine little bugs munching away and crawling around inside of your ears. The noise alone would be enough to drive you mad. It’s not likely to happen to you, but your pet can get ear mites, which are tiny parasites that set up house in the ear canal. Cats are more likely than dogs to suffer from the nasty bugs, but both can get them. Signs of infestation include scratching at the ears, dark debris in the ears, shaking the head, and red and inflamed ears. Ear mites can also cause a secondary ear infection to take hold. But hear this: Ear mites are easy to treat with medication.

Overview

Cats and dogs can both harbor ear mites, but the problem is more common in cats. Ear mites are small parasites that live primarily in the ears. Ear mites sustain themselves by eating skin cells, blood, and earwax. They deposit their waste (a dark, crusty debris) in the ear of the host animal. They also mate and produce eggs in the ear of the host. The mite’s entire life cycle is only about three weeks, and the mite spends its whole life on the animal. Ear mites are contagious between cats and dogs and to some other animals (for example, ferrets), but they are not considered contagious to humans.

Signs and Identification

The most common signs of ear mite infestation include:

  • Shaking/rubbing of the head and ears
  • Dark, crusty debris in the ears
  • Itching/scratching
  • Secondary ear infections
  • Red and inflamed ears
  • Skin wounds and hair loss about the ears and head (from scratching)

Ear mites are microscopic. Examining ear debris under a microscope is the easiest method of diagnosis.
Secondary infection of the ears may also be identified through microscopic evaluation of the ear debris.

Affected Breeds

There is no known breed predisposition when it comes to this parasite.

Treatment

Fortunately, ear mite infestations are highly treatable. If ear mites have caused a secondary ear infection it should be treated while the ear mite infestation is being treated.

Your veterinarian can prescribe medicated ear drops to kill ear mites. Because ear mites are contagious to other pets, all animals in the household should be treated.

Prevention

Some spot-on flea and tick preventives are effective against ear mites in cats and dogs. Using these products monthly will control ear mite infestations in animals exposed to them.

Keeping cats and dogs indoors so they are not interacting with community animals carrying these mites is another approach to prevention.

Glaucoma in Dogs

Glaucoma is a disease in which the pressure of the fluid in the eye is higher than normal. Left untreated, glaucoma often progresses to blindness. The condition can affect dogs and cats, though canines are more likely to inherit the disease. With hereditary glaucoma, it is important to look for early symptoms — such as redness around the eye — in order to diagnose the condition early and begin treatment. Drugs and surgery can be used to treat the condition and maintain vision, but once it progresses to blindness, the changes are irreversible.

Overview

The structures inside the eye, such as the iris and lens, are surrounded by fluid. Normally, the movement of fluid through the eye is well controlled. However, sometimes the fluid doesn’t circulate normally, and fluid pressure builds up inside the eye. Glaucoma is the general term used to describe increased pressure inside the eye.

Glaucoma is much more common in dogs than in cats, and it can have many causes. Primary glaucoma is often an inherited genetic condition and has been identified in several dog breeds, including Basset Hounds, Cocker Spaniels, and Siberian Huskies. It tends to affect both eyes but may not occur in both eyes at the same time. Secondary glaucoma means that the pressure inside the eye was normal until another condition caused pressure to increase. Conditions that can cause secondary glaucoma include trauma to the eye, inflammation involving the eye, a cataract, or a tumor inside the eye. Glaucoma can also be classified as acute (for example, occurring suddenly in response to trauma) or chronic (pressure builds up over a period of time).

Glaucoma can damage several important structures inside the eye, including the optic nerve, the retina (tissue at the back of the eye that is necessary for vision), the cornea (the clear membrane on the front of the eye), and the lens. Injury to any of these structures, alone or in combination, can lead to permanent blindness.

Symptoms and Identification

Dogs with primary glaucoma are most often diagnosed between the ages of 3 and 7, but canines of all ages are at risk. The disease usually affects both eyes, though it can take weeks or months from the time you see symptoms in one eye to the next. Whether glaucoma occurs suddenly or over a longer period of time, the clinical signs can be similar:

  • Pain (squinting, rubbing the eye or face against the floor or against furniture)
  • Cloudiness or “bluish” discoloration of the eye
  • Tearing
  • Red eyes
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Dilated pupils
  • Unequally sized pupils
  • Decreased appetite (due to pain)
  • Partial or complete blindness
  • “Head shyness” (reluctance to have the face or head touched/approached, due to pain and reduced vision)

Diagnosis is based on evaluating the pressure inside the eye through a procedure called tonometry. There are several ways to perform tonometry, and they all involve using a tonometer — a device that is applied to the surface of the eye that can help your veterinarian estimate the amount of pressure inside the eye. Other tests may also be performed to evaluate the conditions inside the eye.

Affected Breeds

Primary glaucoma has been reported in many dog breeds including Cocker Spaniels, Boston Terriers, Miniature Poodles, Chow Chows, Bassett Hounds, and Dalmatians.

Treatment

Treatment of glaucoma is aimed at controlling the flow of fluid through the eye and reducing the pressure inside the eye to normal levels, usually through the use of topical ophthalmic drugs and oral medications. Your veterinarian may recommend referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist for initial treatment or for long-term management.

In many cases, drug therapy is not effective long term. For these pets, surgical options including laser or cryosurgical techniques may be recommended. Medication is often still necessary after surgery.

Once vision is lost, the dog’s comfort becomes the primary concern. Veterinarians may recommend enucleation (complete removal of the eye) or other procedures to alleviate pain and reduce the stress related to chronic treatment.

Prevention

Most cases of glaucoma are not easily preventable. Primary glaucoma (the inherited form) eventually affects both eyes (though not always at the same time), so if one of your pet’s eyes is affected, your veterinarian may recommend treating both eyes to help delay the start of glaucoma in the normal eye.

Even though glaucoma may not be preventable in many cases, early diagnosis and treatment may reduce the risk of permanent damage and blindness. Regular wellness examinations are important, as some of the early signs of glaucoma may be detected during physical exam. Also, monitoring your pet at home for any signs of discomfort or changes in attitude can also increase the chance of identifying problems like glaucoma.

Antibiotic Therapy for Ear Infections

  • Any pet can develop an ear infection; underlying allergies or other illnesses are often the cause.
  • Bacterial infection generally occurs secondary to the inflammation and unhealthy environment in the ear.

A typical course of antibiotics can be as brief as five to seven days, or as long as several months. It is best to give all medications as directed for the full course of treatment, even if the ears look better right away.

What Is an Ear Infection?

The medical term for an ear infection is otitis. Ear infections generally begin as inflammation of the skin inside the outer ear canal (the tube-shaped part of the ear visible under the ear flap). Once inflammation is present, discharge, redness, and other characteristics of an ear infection become established. Inflammation of the canal leads to the overgrowth of normal bacteria and yeast that live in the ear; other “opportunistic” bacteria can also take advantage of the inflammation and unhealthy environment inside the ear to establish infection. The overgrowth of these organisms causes more inflammation and other unhealthy changes inside the ear. In some cases, ear infections that start in the outer ear canal can progress to involve the middle ear and inner ear. Deep infections can lead to deafness and other complications.

What Causes Ear Infections?

Any pet can develop otitis regardless of ear shape, exposure to water (swimming), or the amount of hair inside the ear canal. Ear infections in dogs and cats are most often the result of an underlying problem. Many conditions can predispose a pet to developing an ear infection, including the following:

  • Allergies (food allergy or inhalant allergy)
  • Ear mites
  • Polyps or other growths in the ear canal
  • Systemic illnesses such as thyroid disease and adrenal gland disease (in dogs)
  • Foreign material in the ears, including dirt, sand, or plant material
  • Ear infections are painful. Some pets with this condition may even try to bite people who try to touch their ears or head (including their owners).

The clinical signs of otitis can vary depending on the severity of the inflammation but can include the following:

  • Shaking the head or rubbing the head and ears on the floor or on furniture
  • Scratching the ears
  • Discharge from the ears (can sometimes have a very bad odor)
  • Redness of the ear canal and earflap; the ears may also feel warm when touched

Some pets with severe otitis may cry or groan as they rub and scratch their ears. Some pets scratch so severely that their nails create wounds on the skin around their face, neck, and ears. If the otitis is severe or chronic, the outer ear canal can begin to thicken and become deformed. This thickening can make the ear opening very narrow, so cleaning the ears becomes more difficult. Ulcerations on the inside of the ear canal can also result from infection and trauma.

If a chronic or severe otitis progresses to involve the middle or inner ear, more severe clinical signs can occur, including development of a head tilt, incoordination, inability to stand or walk, and increased pain.

Why Are Antibiotics Necessary to Treat Ear Infections?

Once the inflammation associated with an ear infection is established, bacteria (and yeast) can create secondary infections. These infections can be relatively straightforward to diagnose and treat with antibiotics or antifungal medications. Still, the underlying reason for the inflammation must be addressed or the secondary infections are likely to recur. Diagnosing the underlying cause can be challenging and may require additional testing.

During a physical examination, your veterinarian may use a cotton swab to collect some debris from your pet’s ear. This material can be placed on a slide and examined under a microscope to determine if the infection is due to yeast, bacteria, or mites. Your veterinarian may also recommend bacterial culture and sensitivity testing of the debris found inside your pet’s ear. This information can help determine the best medications to treat the infection.


Your veterinarian will also likely clean your pet’s ears to remove as much debris as possible before treatment begins. Cleaning begins creating a healthier environment inside the ear — an environment that will not continue to support bacterial overgrowth.

How Are Antibiotics Given?

In many cases, antibiotic medication for an ear infection can be applied (usually as an ointment or drops) directly into your pet’s ear. Sometimes, oral antibiotics or antifungal medication (for yeast) may also be recommended. Your veterinarian may also administer an injection of antibiotics in the office to start treating the infection quickly (while oral or topical medication is taking effect). Oral or topical steroids may also be prescribed to help reduce swelling and inflammation and to make your pet more comfortable with having his or her ears handled.

Antibiotics for ear infections are available in many formulations, so notify your veterinarian if you are having problems medicating your pet, because there may be other options available. You should also notify your veterinarian right away if your pet seems to be experiencing any side effects from medication.

A typical course of antibiotics for treating an ear infection can be as brief as five to seven days or as long as several months. In many cases, the ears may start looking better after only a few applications of medication or after only a few doses of oral medication. However, it is advised to give all medications as directed for the full course of treatment. Your veterinarian may recommend recheck exams during the course of treatment to monitor how well the condition is responding to therapy. Notify your veterinarian right away if your pet’s ears begin to look worse, if the problem seems to return after treatment is completed, or if other signs of illness are observed.

How Can Future Ear Infections Be Prevented?

Once an infection has resolved, regular cleaning helps prevent recurrence by promoting a healthy environment inside the outer ear canal. Never insert a cotton swab into your pet’s ear canal; these swabs can rupture the eardrum, which could lead to additional complications. If you are uncomfortable cleaning your pet’s ears, ask your veterinary team to review ear cleaning procedures with you.

Underlying conditions, such as allergies, should also be addressed to help prevent recurrence of ear infections.

Returning for regular check-ups with your veterinarian is also an important way to track your pet’s progress and catch ear infections early before they have a chance to get firmly reestablished.