Damaged Ear Repaired

A horse's ear is designed distinguishing fine sounds at the same time protecting the sensitive inner structures and communicating with herdmates. The ear of an 18-month-old Belgian Warmblood filly was injured, which resulted in the ear permanently bending backward, exposing the ear canal and causing an unsightly blemish.

Lieven E. Vlaminck, DVM, was one of the authors of a report on the above filly that was treated at the Department of Surgery and Anesthesia of Domestic Animals at Ghent University in Merelbeke, Belgium.

Vlaminck stated, "If injuries in horses ears occur, they are mostly related to fence accidents. For example; a horse wants to graze through the barbed fence wires on the outside of its pasture. If it is suddenly frightened, injuries can be inflicted. Bite injuries are very rare and can occur from horse fights or other animals attacking a horse. In very cold areas, when horses are kept outside for most of the day, you would encounter a higher frequency of frostbite injuries. This results in the loss of the ear tip or bigger parts depending on the degree of tissue damage."

The wound in the Belgian filly was treated with antibiotic ointment and local antiseptics for about three weeks. As the wound healed, the tip of the ear curled backward at about a 50-60 degree angle as a result of cartilage thickening. Vlaminck said while he does not believe the wound affected the hearing of the horse at that time, the owners wished to have the ear corrected for aesthetic and sale reasons.

During the surgery, incisions were made through the inner cartilage. This resulted in the relief of contraction and curling, which allowed reshaping of the ear into its normal appearance. A skin graft was sutured onto the cartilage and granulation tissue areas so future wound contracture was prevented. A thermoplastic "splint" was applied to the inner surface of the ear. Within 30 days, the bandage, thermoplastic splint, and sutures were removed. Six months after the surgery, the filly’s ear had retained its normal shape and appearance, with the exception of a few white hairs that had grown into the injured area.

Vlaminck said, "The owners were completely satisfied with the cosmetic results obtained. The treatment was definitely successful in re-establishing a normal appearance of the ear, and the horse looked happier afterwards. As ears play an important role in the communication between horses, I'm convinced that the social status of this horse within a group of animals would have been influenced in case of non-treatment."

About the Author

Liz Stitt, Editorial Intern

Liz Stitt was The Horse's editorial intern in 2005 and a student majoring in equine science and English at the University of Kentucky.

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