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Vet Dermatol. 2006 Jun;17(3):175-81.

Otoscopic, cytological, and microbiological examination of the equine external ear canal.

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Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, C247 VTH, University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, Knoxville, 37996-4544, USA.


Otoscopic examination and cytology of the equine ear would be beneficial in diseases such as head trauma, headshaking, otitis externa secondary to otitis media, vestibular disease, aural neoplasia and aural pruritus secondary to parasites. In practice, otic examinations of horses are rarely done due to the perceived difficulty in visualizing the equine external ear canal and tympanic membrane, as well as the need for chemical restraint. In this study, the proximal external ear canal was examined in live horses using a handheld otoscope and in cadaver heads using video otoscopy. Visualization of the proximal ear canal of the sedated horse could be done with a handheld otoscope, but more sedation or general anaesthesia and a video otoscope would be required to adequately visualize the tympanic membrane in the live horse. The proximal ear canals of 18 horses were examined cytologically and cultured aerobically. In three horses, both ears were sampled. No cells or organisms were seen on cytological examination of 11/21 ears. Nine of the 21 ears were sterile when cultured. Ten of the 21 ears had mixed growth with low numbers of organisms (Corynebacterium sp. being most common). Two of the 21 ears had heavy growth of a single organism (Corynebacterium sp. and Staphylococcus intermedius, respectively). Equine cadaver heads were examined in cross-section by computed tomography (CT) imaging and histopathology in order to further understand the anatomy of the equine external ear canal. Equine practitioners should be aware that otic examination is possible and may provide important diagnostic information.

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