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May 3, 2010

Surgery is last option for dog's ear pain

Ear infections are easily treated but, even with attention, can become severe, chronic and debilitating.

Ear infections are easily treated but, even with attention, can become severe, chronic and debilitating.

Candy's ear infections are an example. The 10-year-old cocker spaniel has had problems on and off in both ears. She has been treated with topical and oral medications and deep-ear canal flushings.

She can no longer hear well and her ears are oozing a foul-smelling yellow liquid almost constantly.

Candy's owners took her to a specialist in veterinary dermatology. After a thorough evaluation, including cultures for bacteria and microscopic evaluation for fungal organisms, blood chemistries to check for underlying metabolic problems and external ear canal flushing, it was determined that her ear canals have become narrowed to the point where there is really no effective opening from outside the ear to the ear drum. Surgery to eliminate Candy's ear canals was the recommendation. Candy's owners are wondering if this surgery would be best for Candy.

An ear canal ablation is considered a sort of "last resort" when dealing with chronic severe ear disease. That said, it sounds like it may indeed be Candy's best hope for improving her quality of life. I can almost guarantee she is miserable at this point and if there is little or no hope of recovery from her ear disease with medical treatment, an ablation might be best.

But I would advise radiographs be taken of Candy's head to allow for visualization of her external ear canals. With severe chronic ear disease, the ear canals narrow and will often become mineralized. This can also occur in the middle and inner ear. This radiographic procedure will show the extent of the damage to the ear canals and help decide if a surgical ablation is best or if there is still hope in saving her canals. This is a major surgery and, once performed, Candy will not hear again.

I can share from experience that Candy will likely be a "new dog" after surgery. I have seen these dogs turn from enduring a subdued, pain-filled life into happy-go-lucky "puppies" with this procedure. Ultimately, if the surgery will restore Candy's quality of life and there is no alternative, then surgery is the answer.

Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.

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