Hard to Hear: The Facts of Canine Ear Infections

While ear infections are pesky conditions that affect many species, dogs are especially at risk because of the shape of their ear canals.

Dr. Lori Teller, a clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says that diagnosis and treatment should always be handled by a veterinarian, but dog owners should still be informed on the nature of this condition to keep their furry friend in tip-top shape.

“There are multiple causes of ear infections (otitis externa), including allergies (most common), ear mites, a foreign body (this can include polyps or neoplasia), excess hair in the ear canal, anatomic changes in the ear canal, excess moisture in the ear canal, injury, immune-mediated diseases, endocrine disease, and excessive cleaning,” Teller said. “Any of these causes allow for bacteria and/or yeast to overgrow in the ear, leading to the infection.”

Symptoms of canine ear infections include head shaking, scratching at or rubbing the affected ear, discharge, bad odor, redness inside the ear, swelling of the ear canal, pain, itchiness, and crusts or scabs inside the ear or along the ear margin. Owners who suspect that their dog may be suffering from an ear infection should seek veterinary help immediately, as these infections can become more severe if left untreated.

Once diagnosed, your dog’s treatment plan will depend on what caused the ear infection in the first place.

Teller said that topical ointments may be used to treat bacteria and yeast present in the canal. Severe infections or those involving the middle or inner ear canal may be treated with oral antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs. Medicated ear cleansers to clear away discharge and debris from the infected canal may also be prescribed.

“Dogs that develop ear infections frequently will need to have the underlying cause addressed,” Teller said. “Some may require therapies to control allergies. If a food allergy is a cause of the problem, then switching to a hypoallergenic or limited-ingredient diet may prevent future problems. It is very important to work with your veterinarian before switching your dog’s diet.”

Dogs that swim frequently are also more prone to ear infections, and special care should be taken by owners to appropriately clean and dry their pet’s ears after being in the water. Cotton swabs should never be used in the inner canal of a dog’s ear. Teller also advised that dog owners should not allow other dogs to lick their pet’s ears.

To diagnose your pet, a veterinarian might sample ear discharge or look through the ear canal to observe the state of the eardrum. Your dog may need to be sedated for this procedure, depending on the situation.

Although the prospect of a canine ear infection may be daunting, timely veterinary intervention can prevent permanent damage from occurring. Proper care will have your pooch back to their super-hearing self in no time!

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Feline Fine: The Benefits of Catnip

For many cat owners, busting boredom in their feline friend is a sizable concern. Cats are notoriously choosy about their toys, and an under-stimulated cat might result in shredded furniture and shattered knick-knacks.

Tabby cat face with catnip in foregroundOne way owners can capture their cat’s interest is with catnip. Dr. Lori Teller, a clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explains more on what this plant is and how owners can use it to enrich their cat’s environment.

Catnip is a member of the mint family, according to Teller.

Formally known as Nepeta cataria, catnip is a perennial herb that can grow to be up to three feet high. It contains a chemical called nepetalactone in its leaves and stems that can impact your cat’s behavior.

When cats are exposed to nepetalactone by smell, it acts as a stimulant, causing some cats to have an uptick in activity. When ingested, nepetalactone has a sedative effect. It is thought that this chemical mimics natural pheromones, acting on those receptors to elicit a response.

“Catnip has a psychoactive effect, meaning that it can make cats high for about 15-30 minutes after exposure,” Teller said.

Cats under the influence of catnip may roll around, dart across the room, flip over, and exhibit general hyperactivity. Others may be very chill. However, Teller warns that “not every cat is susceptible to these effects.”

Cat owners interested in introducing this herb to their pet’s environment may do so by purchasing toys containing catnip, or they may purchase the herb loose and sprinkle it over areas they would like their cat to frequent, such as a scratching toy.

The herb can be given fresh or dry, though some cats might have a preference in which form they like best. Crafty cat owners might consider growing the herb themselves, as it thrives in most of North America and is relatively easy to care for.

Though catnip can be a great way to enrich your furry friend’s routine, owners should be cautious in how often they expose their cat to this herb.

Catnip is unlikely to cause an overdose, but too much can cause nausea and vomiting. If this occurs, pet owners should remove catnip from their cat’s environment.

Frequent exposure might also reduce the effect catnip has on your cat.

Pet owners concerned about introducing catnip to their pet’s routine should, as always, consult with their veterinarian. Catnip can be a unique and stimulating treat for your pet that may enrich their playtime and provide an adorable display of activity for you to watch!

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Eating Your Greens: The Basics of Cat Grass

When confronted with the topic of healthy eating, we, as humans, are frequently reminded of the importance of including daily greens in our diets. Does your cat’s diet need the same?

Dr. Lori Teller, a clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, discusses the basics of cat grass that every cat owner should know.

“Cat grass isn’t any one type of grass but can be a combination of grasses, such as rye, barley, oat, and wheat,” Teller said. “Cat owners can buy kits at many stores to grow cat grass for their kitties.”

Most owners don’t need to rush to the store to purchase this grass for their pet cat, however, as it is not always necessary to complete their diet.

“Cat grass is not a required part of a cat’s diet if the food they are eating is well-balanced, but it is something that many cats enjoy,” Teller said. “Especially for indoor cats, it can be a source of environmental enrichment. In some cases, it may provide some micronutrients, such as vitamins A and D.”

The reasons cats seek out such grass are still unclear. Though veterinarians have yet to come to a consensus on one definitive answer, several theories exist.

“One theory is that cat grass is a source of fiber that can either act as a mild laxative or trigger vomiting,” Teller said. “When cats lived in the wild, they may have eaten grass to trigger vomiting to rid their stomachs of the non-digestible parts of the prey they ingested. It is also thought that the chlorophyll contained in the grass could serve as a mild pain reliever and help keep the cat’s breath fresh.”

Teller also advises that owners shouldn’t be nervous about introducing cat grass to their pet’s environment, even if it something their pet hasn’t yet encountered.

“For outdoor cats, homegrown cat grass will be safer than what they may nibble on outside because those plants may have been exposed to chemicals or water contaminated with bacteria that may cause disease,” Teller said. “While it would not be dangerous to have the cat grass freely available, if a cat seems to eat it voraciously, then it may be worth consulting with a veterinarian to determine if the cat’s diet is meeting all of its nutritional needs.”

Owners residing in multiple-pet households can also be assured that cat grass is likely a safe addition to their home.

“It is not likely that cat grass would be a problem for other animals in the household,” Teller said. “The bigger concern would be if a cat or other animal confused cat grass with other plants in the home that are potentially toxic. It is important to keep those plants out of reach of any pets.”

Ultimately, the decision to introduce cat grass to a feline friend is up to their owner. As always, cat owners should consult with their veterinarian if they are concerned about nutritional deficiencies in their cat’s diet.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Teller Receives Southwest Veterinary Symposium ‘Visionary’ Award

Dr. Lori Teller, a clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), has been awarded the 2019 Southwest Veterinary Symposium (SWVS) Visionary of the Year Award.

The annual award is presented to an individual who is recognized by the profession and actively engaged in a private, public, or corporate veterinary practice, as well as whose contributions elevate the standards and goals of veterinary medicine.

“I was very much humbled and honored to receive this award,” Teller said. “It means a lot to me because I have spent many years encouraging veterinarians and our associations to think progressively and to consider new ways to educate clients and improve business models.

“The award inspires me to keep pushing,” she said. “There are so many amazing people who’ve received this award and I feel awed to now be in their company.”

As the first full-time telehealth veterinarian in academia, Teller is pioneering a telemedicine program at the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) to improve patient care and provide remote practitioners with easy access to CVM specialists.

“Telehealth and telemedicine are going to greatly impact the profession over the next several years, and I think it’s important that it be done well and done right,” Teller said. “Veterinarians should be leading the way in what works and what doesn’t for our profession, and being at TAMU, a place that believes strongly in innovation, makes it a no-brainer to implement a virtual care program here.”

Teller was presented with the Visionary of the Year Award on Sept. 28 during the SWVS President’s VIP Reception in San Antonio.

“SWVS is one of my favorite continuing education meetings because it is just the right size—not too big and not too small,” Teller said. “The people who attend are always friendly, especially from the five partner states. I love getting to catch up with old friends and meet new people.”

Teller was nominated for the award by the Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA) and selected as the recipient by the SWVS Awards Committee. Selection criteria for the award are based on contributions to the profession that include veterinary practice, continuing education, publications, public education, and civic activities.

The SWVS provides continuing education for veterinary professionals in the Southwest region of the nation, including Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. The annual symposium includes exhibits, interactive labs, and social activities for DVMs, RVTs, hospital personnel, veterinary and technician students, and suppliers who provide the products and services that support veterinary medicine.

Outside of the CVM, Teller is active within the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and played a key role in the development of its telemedicine policy in 2017. She serves as both vice chair and District VIII representative on the AVMA board of directors and as chair of the AVMA’s State Advocacy Committee

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Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Interim Director of CVM Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

How to ‘Chews’ the Best Dog Chew Toys

Pet stores often carry an overwhelming number of dog chew options, from rawhides and antlers to rubber toys and ropes. With so many choices, how do you know which is the best for your dog?Dog chewing toy

To help with this decision, Dr. Lori Teller, a clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, weighs the pros and cons of the most common types of dog chews.

Teller describes dogs as “innate chewers” that enjoy having some sort of dog chew or toy to sink their teeth into. From a young age, they often “explore the world with their mouths,” so it is better to give them their own chew toys rather than sacrifice your shoes and furniture.

“Chewing can help relieve stress and anxiety, keep their teeth clean, and keep their minds stimulated,” she said. “Puppies also chew to relieve the pain and irritation of teething.”

While there are countless dog chew options on the market, the most common include rawhides, real bones and antlers, pig ears, and chew toys made from nylon or rubber.

“Rawhides can help limit plaque and tartar buildup, keep jaw muscles strong, and potentially slightly freshen a dog’s breath,” Teller said. “Look for rawhides sourced from American beef and processed in the U.S.”

While rawhide has its benefits, it can also cause some problems that dog owners need to watch out for. Some dogs develop gastrointestinal upset, vomiting, or diarrhea after chewing rawhides, and others may chew off pieces that can become choking hazards or create intestinal blockages.

Rawhides approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council tend to be safer and cause fewer problems, Teller said.

“It is also important to pick a rawhide chew that is the right size and shape for your dog to minimize these risks,” she said. “In multi-dog households, separate the dogs when giving chew treats to eliminate potential competition or the urge to gulp down a treat before another dog can steal it.”

Real bones, antlers, and hooves can seriously injure dogs if pieces splinter off and cause obstruction or puncture wounds. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also warns owners against giving dogs these chews because bones can cause cuts in the mouth and fracture teeth.

“When antlers became popular as dog chews, veterinarians and veterinary dentists noticed an uptick in the number of fractured teeth they were seeing and started cautioning owners to avoid these chews for their dogs,” Teller said.

Most dogs enjoy the strong scent of pig ears, but these chews are frequently contaminated with bacteria like Salmonella, which can be dangerous for both dogs and people who come into contact with the chews.

Finally, while chew toys made from nylon and rubber can be good options, they can also be dangerous if a dog begins to tear off and eat pieces that are too large to pass through the gastrointestinal tract.

“Remove any toy that has reached the size where it can become a choking hazard or cause an intestinal obstruction,” Teller said. “If your dog chews off large pieces of the toy and swallows them, then that toy should also be taken away.”

Teller recommends testing nylon toys by trying to indent them with a thumbnail and avoiding extremely hard options that could break teeth. For both these and rubber toys, make sure to buy an appropriate size toy; larger dogs have been known to swallow or choke on small toys.

Similarly, rope toys can be a lot of fun for dogs but should only be played with under supervision. When ropes begin to fray, remove them to avoid pieces of string getting stuck in the dog’s gastrointestinal tract.

While some dog chews are better than others, it may still take time to find the best option for your pup. Keep in mind the potential health concerns and focus on finding a safe option that will allow your dog to be a happy and healthy chewer.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.