Middle Ear Disease in Horses

November 4, 2013 (published)

Ear infections are common in dogs and cats but are fairly rare in horses. However, there is a disease syndrome that affects the middle ear in horses as well as the bones and joints around it that can be significant. Dr. John Janicek indicates in the Remuda Magazine of the Texas Equine Veterinary Association that the disease is called temporohyoid osteoarthropathy. That is a mouthful, but the main thing to remember is that the disease affects the middle ear and surrounding bones and joints, where it causes neurological system disease. Initially the only clinical signs noted may be head tossing, ear rubbing, refusing to take the bit, holding the head abnormally, pain on touching the ear or other behavior changes. Certainly there are lots of diseases that can cause these symptoms, including dental disease or even ticks in the ears, so a complete exam should be performed by your vet.

As the disease progresses, acute neurological signs develop as a result of damage to the facial nerve where it exits the brain in the area of the middle ear. With facial nerve damage, you will notice the ear on the affected side dropping, deviation of the horse's muzzle to the opposite side of the ear, disease and inability to blink the eyelid on the affected side. This can lead to damage to the eye as the horse cannot close the eyelid to protect it. Some horses will also have a head tilt and may seem to wobble when they walk. Diagnosis can be made by placing an endoscope in the guttural pouch and examining the bone and joint adjacent to the middle ear. A surgical procedure can treat the condition; results are fairly successful depending on the severity of the condition.

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