Otoscopy in animals: how is it done?
Otoscopy of dogs, cats and co. means that the vet examines the animal’s external auditory canal as far as the eardrum using an otoscope (ear speculum). The otoscope has a light and a magnifying lens.
The animal’s head must be fixed securely for the examination. The external ear is then pulled gently upwards and outwards as the auditory canal of our pets is L-shaped. The funnel of the otoscope is inserted carefully into the auditory canal and advanced.
In the ear, the vet looks for injuries, raw areas, redness, inflammation or other changes. The smell is also important: if there is a sweetish, vinegary or otherwise altered smell or if collections of fluid and pus are present, a swab sample is taken. This is often examined directly on the spot. Rods or cocci (bacteria), fungi or certain cell types can be distinguished. In addition, the vet sometimes sends a swab to an outside laboratory for bacteriological or fungal testing. This is also tested for sensitivity to determine which drugs are effective against the infection. Outside laboratory tests usually take a few days, depending on the problem. For example, if bacteria or fungi have to be cultured, they need some time to grow on a nutrient medium.
If the auditory canal is blocked with a lot of ear wax or so severely inflamed that it is too narrow for the otoscope funnel, prior treatment is required, sometimes thorough irrigation under anaesthetic. Only then can the auditory canal and eardrum be examined in detail.
By the way, even when the ear is healthy, animals often find otoscopy unpleasant as the ears are very sensitive organs. If there is pain, e.g., due to inflammation, it may be necessary to give a sedative.
Video otoscopy in animals: what is that?
For video otoscopy the vet introduces a small camera with light source into the ear. The camera image is transmitted to a screen where it can be assessed. Anaesthesia is not essential for the examination but sedation may be necessary if there is severe pain or a defensive reaction.
The procedure has several advantages:
- The image quality is somewhat better than with a conventional otoscope.
- As the animal’s owner, you can also see what the vet sees.
- The examination is safer for the vet than having to be directly head-to-head with the animal (defensive movements)
Video otoscopy also offers the possibility of introducing small instruments into the ear through what are called working channels, e.g., forceps and brushes. Samples can be obtained in this way. Irrigation (see below) is also possible with video otoscopy. Video otoscopy thus often combines diagnosis and treatment.
Irrigation of the ear in animals
Inflammatory secretions or plugs of ear wax can be washed out of the ear with irrigation and drugs can be delivered directly to their site of action; often both are done. The ear is first washed out, which enables a better view, and then a drug is introduced that can act directly on the spot.
Irrigation of the ears of dogs or cats is always performed under general anaesthetic for which the animal must be fasting. Since the ear is very sensitive, painkillers are also used. Anti-inflammatory and decongestant drugs may be necessary beforehand so that the swollen auditory canal becomes passable at all.
Irrigation is most commonly performed for chronic recurrent ear inflammation or tumours.
Following the irrigation you will be given a treatment plan with drugs and a follow-up appointment; to deal with stubborn ear diseases, you must have plenty of staying power and follow the treatment plan exactly.
Otoscopy in animals: when is it done?
Otoscopy essentially is part of every general check-up. It is particularly important if a special skin examination is performed because of skin disease. Otoscopy is naturally important especially when your pet shows signs of pain or itching in the ear. These can be:
- Frequently shaking the head
- Frequently scratching the head/ears
- Tilting the head
- Untypical smell from the ears or from the ear wax
- Increased ear wax production
- Redness of the ears
- Ear discharge
If your pet’s ears are particularly sensitive or he or she reacts defensively when the ears are touched, this can be evidence of earache in dogs or cats. With chronic or untreated ear diseases, the middle or internal ear can also be affected. The animal then shows difficulties with balance or nystagmus (trembling of the eyes). Rarely, these diseases also occur acutely.
Otoscopy in animals: which diseases are common?
The common ear diseases in dogs and cats include, e.g.
- Otitis externa and otitis media (inflammation of the external auditory canal and middle ear inflammation) due to bacteria, fungi, parasites (e.g., ear mites) or allergy
- Foreign bodies (e.g., plant awns), often with subsequent inflammation
- Polyps (especially in cats)
Dogs with hanging ears are more likely to have problems with inflammation as do dogs who like to go bathing. Dogs with prick ears, by contrast, are more often at risk of foreign bodies getting in. Otitis in kittens is often caused by ear mites.
Further diagnostic measures (e.g., an allergy test) may be necessary depending on the disease. The treatment is also not necessarily limited to the ears; naturally, the whole animal is treated for severe pain, allergy or parasite infestation.
Otoscopy in animals: Conclusion
Otoscopy in dogs and other pets is an important and frequent examination. With it, ear inflammation and other diseases can be diagnosed. We have compiled further information about e.g., otitis in cats or the treatment of ear inflammation in dogs here.