Our resident veterinarian provides animal care advice and quick solutions to
your pet and livestock problems.
Treating Dog Ear Infections
My poodle-mix puppy is constantly tilting his head and
holding one ear funny. What can we do to treat ear mites?
— Kaye McIver
Red Bluff, CA
First off, it is a rarity for dogs to have “ear mites.” The
mite, Otodectes , is a common parasite of the
external ear canal of cats and ferrets but rarely affects
dogs. However, dogs do succumb to a variety of bacterial
and yeast ear infections quite readily. Poodles, cocker
spaniels, and golden retrievers seem to be prone to these
because of their ear anatomy and internal hair.
Moistness and humidity play a great role in ear infections.
The key to success in treating these infections is keeping
the ear dry. Do not use alcohol or pour anything down the
ear canal. Simply try using soft tissue or gauze, wiping
down as far as you can. Do not use cotton, as it will stick
to the inflamed tissue, and don’t use swabs, as they will
tend to push the infection farther in. Air alone is a great
drying agent, so you might try to tape the ear flaps up on
top of the head for a few days. A 50/50 mixture of vinegar
and warm water is useful for gently cleaning after you’ve
dried and removed most of the debris. It will help
eliminate some of the fungus. An antibiotic may be
necessary from your veterinarian to treat the bacteria.
Dog House Tips
My two-year-old, 125-pound, Great Dane doesn’t enjoy being
indoors. I built him an insulated house and am considering
a heating element with his straw bed. Any advice?
— Tom Ciras
The outside dog needs a snug house for protection from the
elements, especially strong sun and wind. Except in very
cold climates, it should not be insulated. Why? Because
insulation or heating allows the humidity to build up,
causing condensation to form. The condensation has two ill
effects. First, it invites mold to form. Second, it chills
the animal. You can minimize the formation of condensation
by creating a space between the roof and walls, allowing
air to circulate in and naturally ry the internal
There should be plenty of bedding in the house and straw is
an excellent choice. It should be straw, not hay, and be
changed periodically for parasite control and simple
cleanliness. A combination of the two — straw and
heat/moisture not only encourages mold, but fleas and
intestinal parasites as well, so try to pick the driest
straw you can.
It’s funny how most dog houses look like our own houses
(peaked roof with shingles) when in actuality many dogs
love to lay on top of their homes. Thus, the roof should be
flat, with a mild slope and either painted dark or covered
with a dark heavy rubber or carpet. The dark colors will
also absorb the natural heat of the sun and allow the
animal a choice of heat with wind (roof) or heat without
wind (straw-enclosed bottom) in cooler climates.
Removing Ticks from Pets
My four-year-old golden retriever had a small bump on his
head where a tick once was. How do I know the tick isn’t still in there?
— Brenda Franklin
Quite frankly, you don’t! A tick will penetrate the skin
with its head and mouth, leaving the remainder of its body
outside the epidermis to expand as it fills with blood.
When done with the meal, the tick backs out of the skin,
leaving behind a sore or area of inflammation that it
produced as it invaded the tissue. This sore can be as
large as the tick itself. It eventually will heal as the
body “fills in” the area of penetration with new cells
Problems occur when folks attempt to remove the pests from
the animal and do so incompletely. The head can break off
as people attempt to pull the tick out and is often left in
the animal’s skin. The skin reacts to the remainder of the
tick (head) like it would to a foreign substance and
attempts to “wall it off” or surround it with stronger more
rugged tissue (granulation or proud flesh).
Most of the time, the animal’s body will break down or
expel the remaining parasite; warm-water compresses will
help this to occur and assist with healing of the wound.
Sometimes, however, it is necessary for a veterinarian to
surgically remove the nodule.
It is very unlikely that the entire tick would burrow under
the skin and remain there since it too needs oxygen to
survive. I suspect that the small bump you see on your
pup’s head is most likely simple scar tissue secondary to
the tick bite.
Healing a Broken Goat Leg
Our pet Nubian goat, Flower, got loose the other day and
jumped the fence. It appears that she may have broken her
leg. She’s walking on the leg, but very tenderly. Will it
heal? Can we do anything?
— Elizabeth Martinez
Will it heal? Chances are, yes. Will it heal correctly
without some type of cast or fixation? No, probably not.
The best thing you can do outside of having your
veterinarian take some x-rays and apply a cast, would be to
confine Flower to a box stall with access to a very small
outdoor area. Make sure she gets some sun, which helps
vitamin D metabolism and is important for healing all
tissues. Minimize her jumping and climbing by providing her
with food at nose level and soft grassy ground with little
to no large rocks. To relieve the pain, cold pack the limb
at least once a day for the first week. You might even
stand Flower in a bucket and run cool water over the limb
if the injury is in the lower leg. You can also give her a
couple of adult buffered aspirin once a day, or every other
day, for a few weeks to help bring down the swelling.
While it’s common for tethered goats to injure themselves,
it’s fairly uncommon for most adult goats to fracture their
limbs while running and jumping since they are a mountain
animal. I’d suggest checking the quality, freshness, and
calcium/phosphorus content of your feedstuffs to assure
yourself that the fractures aren’t related to nutrition.
Also, bad bruises and sprains of ligaments and tendons are
much more common than fractures but often appear so sore
that the animal will be just as lame for just as long. Rest
and whirlpool therapy will really help these injuries as
Controlling Parasitic Fly Larvae
We have a terrible time with grubs in our holstein-heifer
herd. What can you do to get rid of these nasty pests?
— Andrew Baron
Grubs are parasitic fly larvae. Botflies, as they are also
called, are usually members of the genus Hypoderma
. They look like bees and lay their eggs on the hair of the
legs and lower belly of cattle. The eggs hatch and the
larvae burrow through the skin, setting off on a long
migration through the cow’s muscles and connective tissues
until they reach the skin on the back. Here, each grub
forms a subcutaneous lump with a breathing hole through the
skin, and remains here destroying tissue until they drop
out, mature into a fly, and start the whole cycle over
These little critters are really pests as departments of
agriculture all over the world can attest. Thousands of
dollars have been lost from cattle that have spent time
bothered by grubs instead of making milk or grazing. There
are many sprays, pour-ons, powders, and injections that
will treat these pests, but extreme care must be taken in
choosing one or the other for milking animals. In mildly
affected cows, it is best just to leave the grubs alone or
inject a small amount of hydrogen peroxide into their
breathing holes in the skin with a blunt teat cannula. This
is usually effective in forcing them out of the skin. Do
not pinch or squash them in the animal’s skin or attempt to
extrude them from their lumps with manual pressure, as the
proteins these grubs exude can cause anaphylactic shock.
Fly control in the barn via mucking and fly strips are
essential in controlling these parasites.
Treating Thrush in Horses
Our quarter-horse mare has had a bad case of thrush for the
past seven months. We’ve tried all types of topical
medications to no avail. Is there something we’re missing?
— Eric Kilburn
Thrush is an infection of the frog, or triangle-shaped,
sensitive area on the underside of the horse’s hoof. Many
horses will have this in one or two feet and will become
moderately lame with it. The feet will be soft and will
exude a foul odor.
The most important aspect of treating the disease is to
give the animal clean, dry bedding. Moisture and
dirt precipitate the problems. Fresh daily sawdust or
shavings is 100% better than straw but a bit more
expensive. Clean the underside of the foot to remove manure
and dead tissue, thereafter cleaning the feet daily with a
hoof pick. A variety of astringents can be used: witch
hazel, copper sulfate, or alcohol. One that I have found to
be very beneficial is very dilute liquid bleach solution (a
teaspoon to a bucket of water). Use this to clean the sole
and frog daily. But bear in mind that no medication will
work if the animal is constantly standing in moisture,
manure, or mud.
Our nine-year-old female Brittany spaniel, Chelsea, started
losing her hair and slowing down about a month ago. Her
tail is almost bare and our veterinarian believes her
thyroid gland isn’t working. Could you explain this
— Christine Baylor
The thyroid gland is known as the master gland in the body
because the hormone it secretes governs so many important
cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, dermatologic, and other
endocrine functions. The cause of hypothyroidism in the
dog, as it is known, is primarily either an atrophy or
glandular collapse, or may be related to an autoimmune
destruction of the gland itself. A less common cause of
primary thyroid disease is severe iodine deficiency with
resulting goiter, but this doesn’t occur commonly in dogs
fed commercial diets.
The clinical signs of hypothyroidism can vary among dogs,
but the overall effect is a reduced metabolic state. As a
result, dogs with hypothyroidism tend to gain weight,
sometimes to the point of obesity. They fatigue easily with
exercise and become less active. Some even develop a marked
intolerance to cold and may seek out heat sources such as
registers or vents. They may become anemic because of their
decreased metabolic rate and oxygen utilization.
Dogs with hypothyroidism are frequently presented to the
veterinarian with primary complaints of skin and hair coat
problems. Affected dogs lack luster to their coat and
baldness of varying degrees occurs; a common characteristic
is baldness of the tail. Owners may also complain that the
nose changes color and indeed, it does become more
pigmented. The skin becomes scaly and more prone to
superficial infections, due to abnormal deposition of the
upper layer of the epidermis, the stratum corneum.
Your dog can be tested for this disease via two methods.
One involves a simple blood test that checks for a
subnormal level of thyroid hormone. The other involves
actually stimulating the thyroid gland and analyzing a
blood sample afterward to assess the amount of thyroid
hormone produced. Although rather expensive, the second
method is preferred and considered to be a more accurate
method of assessing an animal suspected of having the
Hypothyroidism can be treated with long-term
oral-replacement therapy. Most dogs are supplemented with
thyroid hormone on a once- to twice-a-day basis. The skin
lesions and changes in hair coat may require several months
to return to normal, but for the most part, this is
considered a treatable disease in middle-age to geriatric