Ear infections in exotic pets

Ear infections occur often in exotic pets and affect animals of all ages and gender.

In rodents, rabbits and ferrets, mites are by far the most common cause of ear infection (otitis).  They are usually species selective, but sometimes cross-infest between species such as guinea pigs and rabbits, ferrets and cats and more. Affected animals are usually pruritic (itching) and develop crusty ear discharge. They exhibit head shake, scratching and nervous behavior. Mites can also affect the surrounding skin or even more distant areas and induce flaky lesions. Secondary bacterial infections are fairly common and sometimes result in serious complications.

Ear mites are treated with specific products called mitacides. All household related pets should be treated simultaneously along with the cage and the pet environments. Mites can be introduced into the house via food, litter or other animal products. Being invisible to the naked eye, they are often discovered too late and after the damage is done. Monthly/periodic preventative treatment is a viable option in large colonies.

Inner ear infection is also very common in rabbits and rodents. These are serious problems that need immediate attention. Characteristic signs are head tilt, circling and twisting. Treatment includes antibiotics, nursing and sometimes surgery.

Reptiles and birds are also prone to inner ear infections and develop head tilt and localized swelling. The condition is common in turtles and lizards. An abscess containing hard puss is a typical finding. Surgery and antibiotic administration is the treatment of choice, however recurrences are fairly common. Improper nutrition and husbandry often contribute to low resistance to infections and primary skin abnormalities. Correction of the above must be integrated into the treatment.

Any exotic pet showing signs of possible ear infection should be presented to your veterinarian without delay before onset of complications. Remember that regular visits to your veterinarian will help discover parasites and early signs of ear infections, as well as enabling you to formulate a good preventative plan.                         

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