Q: My 6-year-old Brittany spaniel is generally healthy and active except for his ears, which always seem to get dirty and smell awful. I will clean them with a Q-tip and some alcohol, which works for a while, but the problem never seems to go away. He will occasionally shake his head and rub his ears on the carpet which only makes the ears red and tender. I have also used some medications and solutions from the pet store which does help sometimes. I have been told that spaniels are notorious for having bad ears. Is his ear problem hereditary? Is there anything else I can use before taking him to a vet?
Allan Hamil, Cypress
A: Any dog that has a chronic or recurring ear infection should be examined by a veterinarian. The ears are very sensitive organs and are prone to many sources of injury and infection. Exposure to water from bathing, foxtails, injury, or bacterial infections are all very common sources of ear problems that require attention and proper treatment before the ears become unsalvageable. Your veterinarian will want to examine your dog's ears with an otoscope to look for foreign material, ulcers or excessive tissue growth. Your dog may also need to take antibiotics to help control any infection that may have started.
In some cases, surgery may even be necessary.
Q: I recently moved to Orange County with my three cats and am looking for a good veterinarian who knows a lot about cat diseases. I have seen one vet since I moved here, but he didn't seem to be too interested in cats. Do you have a list of cat vets or know of any practices that treat cats only?
Louise M., El Toro
A: There are veterinary practices that do treat only cats and are usually listed in the telephone directory as such. You may also want to talk to your neighbors who have cats to get recommendations. The Southern California Veterinary Medical Assn. can be called at (714) 523-0980 and will provide you with a listing of veterinarians in your immediate area. There are many veterinarians who especially enjoy cats and are also very knowledgeable.
Q: Our two cats have been sneezing during the last three days. They are still eating well and are very active but will sit and have spasms of multiple sneezing fits. My youngest son has had a cold for the last two weeks but he is getting better. Could he have given the cats their colds? Can we catch their colds? The cats are outside during the day and sleep in my room at night.
Anne Weissman, Yorba Linda
A: Your cats probably have an upper respiratory infection that is most often caused by one of the many viruses to which cats are susceptible. There are vaccines available for the major common viruses, and these should be given yearly. Most upper respiratory viral diseases of cats are not contagious to people. The herpes virus that affects the eyes of cats can cause eye infections in people, so you must be very careful to clean your hands after treating your cats.
I recommend having your cats seen by your veterinarian, who will put them on medication to prevent secondary infections and get them over their sneezing. Like our own colds, some infections have to run their course.
Q: Do dogs really have tonsils? My 4-month-old cocker had been doing some coughing and my vet said he had tonsillitis and kennel cough. He put him on some antibiotics which seems to help some. Should I have these tonsils removed?
Andy Mears, Anaheim
A: Dogs do in fact have tonsillar tissue in the back of their throats that often becomes inflamed and enlarged with viral or bacterial infections, such as kennel cough. As in human medicine, tonsils used to be removed surgically on a regular basis but now are often treated medically and removed only if chronically infected or causing serious complications. I recommend that you have your dog rechecked by your veterinarian to see if the tonsils have returned to normal.