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Listen up – Diseases of a Horse’s Ears


The horse’s ears are an important part of his “early warning” system to predators and danger. They are large and coned shape. Most of the time, they are covered on the inside with hair that helps protect the inner ear from dust and bugs. Flying and biting insects such as mosquitoes are often attracted to the sensitive, thin skin inside the horse’s ear. These types of bugs will try to lay eggs or feed in the horse’s ears, leaving the animal frustrated and tossing its head to try to relieve itself of the pests. Make sure to use a fly repellant or a fly mask with covered ears to deter bugs from entering the horse’s ears. Occasionally, owners clip the inside of the ears and then extra care must be taken to protect the sensitive insides. While removing the hair around and inside the ear can give the animal a clean, tidy appearance, removing the hair inside the ear leaves it more vulnerable to bug bites. To help keep the ears healthy, remove only the fuzzy hair on the edge of the ear and lightly trim the fluffy pieces sticking out of the ear, leaving the inner-ear hair intact. Leaving the ear hair alone also helps prevent dust and debris from entering the ear canal. Equine aural plaques (papillary acanthoma, ear papillomas) are caused by a papillomavirus, carried by Black flies. The flies are active at dawn and dusk and can attack the head, ears, and ventral abdomen of horses. Lesions develop in the rounded area of the pinnae. Lesions are usually asymptomatic, but in some cases the direct effect of the fly bite causes dermatitis and discomfort. . Equine ear papillomas are caused by a virus similar to that of warts. They can be spread from horse to horse easily and are generally benign. Treatment includes frequent applications of fly repellent and stabling the horse during the fly’s feeding times and/or use of a fly mask with ear protection. Equine ear papillomas are treated cosmetically by removal of the bumps. However, the virus will normally cease to be active in three to six months. Lesions typically do not completely disappear. The equine sarcoid is a form of generally benign tumor which can appear on any area of the horse’s body, including the ears. The cause of equine sarcoids is as yet unknown although it is suspected to be a virus. Treatment for equine sarcoids includes surgical removal, cryosurgery, immunotherapy, topical therapies and chemotherapy. In some cases, sarcoids have been known to resolve on their own. While an equine sarcoid is generally a benign skin problem, it can quickly deteriorate into a serious condition without treatment The ear mite is a parasite known as “otodected cyanotis,” which reside in the ear. Signs of an ear mite infestation include scaly or crusty skin, irritation and a black or brown discharge. Mites are common in the feathers located on the horse’s legs and may be transferred through rubbing or contact with this area. Ear mites in horses generally must be diagnosed by a veterinarian and are treated with topical applications containing pyrethrin. Melanomas are commonly found in gray and light-skinned horses. They appear as a black, hairless mass and are generally found on mucous membranes. Melanomas are rarely more than a benign tumor and are not prone to spreading; however, they have the potential to spread to other areas of the body and to vital organs, causing discomfort and potentially serious side effects. The melanoma is treated by surgical removal of the tumor, cryosurgery or oral drugs such as cimetidine.

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