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Weird ear swelling

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  • Weird ear swelling

    Looking for a gut check on this situation:

    I have a 28 year old gelding, retired. Last June, I noticed his interior left ear starting swell. Odd but not alarming at this point. Keep an eye for a couple of weeks till one day I get a text from the BO, he has rubbed the ear bloody. I have vet out who has to sedate him to look at it, she wondered if maybe he had a tick but nothing is in there. Ear is totally swollen, not puffy but just solid tissue. Other ear is fine. She has never seen something like it, thinks it could be allergies and we do dex and zyrtec for the rest of the summer. It never gets any less swollen but he does stop rubbing it as much. In November, we stop the meds since its now about winter. Ear stays just as swollen this entire time but no serious rubbing. I have him tested for Cushings, thinking maybe the ear is related to that, he does have cushings and is started on Prascend in January.

    Now here we are into spring and he's started rubbing it again and its worse this year than it was last year. Ear is a mess, bloody spot inside his ear now, and so swollen. Different vet in the practice looks at it and also says huh, I have no idea, it could be allergies but it would be odd since there are no other symptoms of allergies at all. This horse also has heaves. He is not coughing, sneezing, wheezing, no runny eyes, no runny nose. Other ear is ok, just his left ear he is ripping up. She suggests to try some new antihistamine supplement and also offers a steroidal ointment. We try the ointment but I'm not sure its doing much of anything other than making his ear even gunkier. My gut says this is not allergies and its something internal causing this. He is a gray with melanomas under his tail and around his anus which have grown over the years. I'm not a vet but I know this horse, I suspect a melanoma or its some weird cushings symptom. Vet says yup could be but really doesn't offer many other solutions. She doesn't want him on dex full time because of the cushings even though I specifically said this horse is old and retired and I'd rather we take our chances on the dex than have him walk around in pain.

    Taking him to a bigger clinic is not financially possible. I could try the antihistamine supplement depending on cost but I am doubtful its going to do much at this point. This horse seems miserable, although the prascend has definitely made a change in his demeanor as well. My current thought is to get a 3rd opinion. I don't have the money to do a bunch of diagnostics (and neither of the two vets he's already seen have even suggested that). I need to get this horse comfortable and if that means daily dex or bute, I understand the risks. So my actual question, is that out of line for me to do? Would you try a completely different vet for a new opinion or go back to the last vet that saw him and say we need to do something else for palliative care? I don't know what to do for this poor guy but I have to do something. For now, I do have dex on hand that the BO is going to give for a few days to see if that helps.

  • #2
    Can you have the ear radiographed? That should answer questions about whether it is a tumor or a foreign body in there.


    • #3
      Splinter was my first thought as well, although melanomas can certainly do weird things. I'd ask one of the vets that has seen him to refer you to someone at a university hospital for a remote consult. You or your vet talk to them over the phone and send pictures/video for their ideas.


      • #4
        My Cushings horse has very itchy ears when the weather gets warm, but no swelling that I can see. I can even stick my finger in there and he loves to have it scratched. His is rubbed and bloody on the outside at the base of the ear; that's how deep the itch is. It's also damp and squishy in there. I'd love to find out what causes it and maybe it's similar to what your horse is dealing with.


        • Original Poster

          Originally posted by pony baloney View Post
          My Cushings horse has very itchy ears when the weather gets warm, but no swelling that I can see. I can even stick my finger in there and he loves to have it scratched. His is rubbed and bloody on the outside at the base of the ear; that's how deep the itch is. It's also damp and squishy in there. I'd love to find out what causes it and maybe it's similar to what your horse is dealing with.
          Yes, that's right where his gets bloody as well but now he's got a spot started inside the ear also. The reason I'm thinking melanoma or something related to cushings is because its just stayed mostly status quo. You'd think if it was some kind of major infection, it'd have come to a head by now, its been nearly a year. I was hoping once he was on prascend maybe things would get better; he's only been on the prascend for 3.5 months but so far no change.


          • #6
            If it were something systemic (like related to his Cushing's) wouldn't it be affecting both ears?

            Do you have him on anything for his melanoma? Cimetidine isn't terribly expensive and might be worth a shot.

            Or maybe treat it more like a canine ear infection? There are drying liquids that help with infection and itching that would be less gooey than steroid ointment.

            Good luck, keep us posted!


            • #7
              Any chance you can take him to a university hospital? I wouldn’t be surprised if it were a melanoma, given his history, but I am also not a vet.
              "You can't fix stupid"- Ron White


              • #8
                I'd not use dex too dangerous but use only bute. And I'd use a drying agent for the ear. So vet found no infection? And no injury like when dogs and cats get an injury that causes a puffy ear?
                Try some Momentamax. It will cure an infection. Or will rule out an infection. BTDT


                • #9
                  Can your vet biopsy the area?


                  • Original Poster

                    So far I've had no luck getting a hold of the 3rd vet for another opinion, left messages with no call back. BO text that he's started itching the other ear now as well. We started back on a low dose of dex this week and its not helping. I really wanted a different opinion because thus far my regular vets have not offered any of the ideas that you all have posted. They literally have just said huh, that's really odd, I wonder if its an allergy. Here is a steroidal ointment and you can try this supplement, it new for allergies and we've had some luck with it. I don't want to say they are blowing it off but they definitely are not thinking its anything other than allergies and I can't believe its only allergies at this point. And if it IS allergies, we're past supplements and low doses of dex helping. When it first happened last year, he got a thorough exam and there was nothing in there. Its been mostly dry until we started the ointment and I think that is causing it to be a gunky mess now, so guessing we should probably stop that!

                    As far as further diagnostics, etc., I just can't afford to do anything very expensive, a few hundred would be ok but I drew the line in the sand for him when I retired him that he wouldn't be leaving the farm for medical procedures, if he needed to, then I'd have to euth. My hope for this is we can figure out what it is with what can be done on a farm call and get these symptoms under control and get him comfortable. If that means high doses of dex I am ok with that, if it causes an issue, I'll euth and if I can't get this under control then that's probably going to be the outcome anyway because I'm not going to let him walk around in pain. I know for some people that sounds heartless and harsh but I just can't do it financially and at some point I have to draw the line, I love my horse and I've always done right by him but I can't put myself further in the hole anymore.


                    • #11
                      Do you have a good relationship with a small animal vet? In your shoes, I'd totally call up my small animal guy and ask for a consult. They see A LOT of wonky ear issues in dogs. Sure, wrong species, but they did have to learn *something* about equines in vet school. Could certainly be worth a shot before risking founder with a whole lot of dex that may not help at all. Especially since he's a Cushing's horse...


                      • #12
                        Kind of a different idea here, but have you treated him for mites? Strange he would only rub one ear, but I have seen cats/dogs rub their ears clean off because of mites.
                        I also would second trying some medication to dry up the ear. I think they recommend rubbing alchohol and hydrogen peroxide mix.
                        I hope it’s something simple and not something scary!


                        • Original Poster

                          Originally posted by Simkie View Post
                          Do you have a good relationship with a small animal vet? In your shoes, I'd totally call up my small animal guy and ask for a consult. They see A LOT of wonky ear issues in dogs. Sure, wrong species, but they did have to learn *something* about equines in vet school. Could certainly be worth a shot before risking founder with a whole lot of dex that may not help at all. Especially since he's a Cushing's horse...
                          Oh that's an interesting idea, I do have a good relationship with my small animal vet and she has an old horse also. Not sure I could make it past the receptionist though to get a call directly to her.


                          • Original Poster

                            Bumping this up....has anyone heard of or used Equishield SA power before? Or any Equishield products at all?

                            That is the supplement my vet was referring to, it is sold by some of the vet supply websites, none of the big name regular places carry it but it doesn't require a prescription. I did talk to my small animal vet like Simkie suggested but unfortunately she didn't have too many suggestions. Never did get a call back from 3rd opinion vet. Ears got horrible this week, looked infected so regular vet was back out yesterday. Sedated him, cleaned them, Exceed shot, dex for a couple of weeks and I ordered that supplement. She was going to check with a dermatologist she knows at NC State to see if they had any other ideas but she really thinks its either some kind of bizarre/extreme allergy or a mass of some sort causing this.


                            • #15
                              What a bummer I use the Kinetic chlorhexidine salve and mix up my own Equishield CK HC based on that, because I'm cheap, and it's expensive. But they have really solid products and it's sure worth a shot with what you're facing. I think we've had positive reviews here for the powder--people have used it for scratches, IIRC.

                              Sorry to hear it's just getting worse!


                              • Original Poster

                                Thanks, Simkie. If it helps even a tiny bit he's better off than he is now. My vet was optimistic about it, she has her own horse on it for allergies but his are more respiratory, she didn't think it was helping a bunch for that but said his coat is really nice so maybe? Worth a shot, poor guy.


                                • #17
                                  If the ear wax has gone down too far they rub it. You can actually see it especially if on one side end not the other. You have to massage it daily and try to massage it up. Put some olive oil in to help break it up. You massage on the side of the head below the ear. You will find they love it.
                                  It is better to ride 5 minutes a day than it is to ride 35 minutes on a Sunday.


                                  • #18
                                    What about a hematoma like dogs get? I just watched a video on fb of a vet squeezing out the fibrin from a dogs ear, and it was mentioned that it can start from allergies or itching. It was on Thompson Veterinary Services page, if you can look it up! Might be worth asking about! I’d second the call to a small animal vet, they probably see them quite frequently.
                                    "On the back of a horse I felt whole, complete, connected to that vital place in the center of me...and the chaos within me found balance."


                                    • Original Poster

                                      So thought I'd close the loop on this (at least I sure hope its closed!). During the course of the Excede, his ears looked great, cleared right up. But two days after the shot had 'worn off' his ears were a total mess again and looking just as infected as before. The vet prescribed EnteDerm which is a topical ear ointment for dogs and cats and the main difference it had that the previous topical ointment did not have was something to treat fungus. So barn owner dutifully put it in each ear everyday for two weeks and....his ears look great! Its been two weeks since we stopped and the swelling that has been present for a full year now has gone way down. I can't believe it! He's stopped itching them, no raw bloody spots, no gunk.

                                      We were treating it as if it was an allergy but I honestly don't think it really ever was. I am assuming a fungal infection in an ear just is not that common in horses? I don't know but just figured in case anyone ever came across this thread in a search for a weird swelling in an ear that doesn't get better following normal allergy could be a fungus that a $10 tube of ointment will clear right up!