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Aural (relating to the ear) plaques (or ear papillomas) are unsightly white or yellow patches of skin that appear on one, or both, of the sensitive inner ears of a horse. The plaques are slightly raised off the surface of the skin, and have a distinctive crusty or flaky texture. Though aural plaques are not warts, they are similar in that they have a cauliflower-type appearance. In addition to these unsightly patches of skin, the affected inner ears may also develop small red lesions which may become increasingly inflamed and irritated over time.
Ear papillomas are thought to be the result of hypersensitivity to the bites and bloodsucking of parasites and insects. Also, they may be the result of the chronic inflammation affiliated with the papilloma virus.
In chronic cases of this ear condition that receive minimal to no medical treatment or ongoing care, the irritation and inflammation inside of the ear may cause the skin to grow thicker and harder (hyperkeratosis). This thickening may change the shape of the ear, and could lead to further structural problems. Some horses experience such exacerbations of their symptoms over time, that caretakers and owners will notice sharp behavioral changes. Horses may continuously shake their heads due to the irritation and itching. Others become head-shy, and resist being harnessed, bridled or groomed. It is important to anticipate surges in insect activity. Seasonal infestations of black flies and mosquitos will antagonize an already uncomfortable horse. In addition to the application of insect repellant inside and outside of the ear, the horse may also be fitted with a fly mask with ears. For these reasons, and because the ear papillomas are contagious (though, for some reason, most horses have immunity), the condition should not be dismissed as purely cosmetic.
As with any skin change or health condition, a veterinarian should be consulted about the best treatment and care program for a horse with ear papillomas.
Ear papillomas, are white or yellow flaky skin patches inside of a horse’s ear. Thought to be caused by insect bites and an association with the papilloma virus, this condition can affect a horse to such a degree that he may become uncomfortable and can exhibit behavioral changes such as resistance to bridling.
Ear papillomas are seen most often in areas of the country with high populations of mosquitos and black flies. Black flies are thought to be highly responsible for the transmission of the papilloma virus. Any age of horse may develop aural plaques, but they do not typically occur in horses under the age of two. While some horses appear to be immune, others develop small, controllable cases that require some treatment and ongoing care to minimize the horse’s itching and to maximize comfort. Other horses, however, will present with a more aggressive case of aural plaques that, if left untreated, may expand beyond the surface of the ear and begin to spread across the head.
Diagnosis is accomplished through a physical exam and an observation of clinical signs and behavior. The horse owner should not attempt to diagnose the condition. A veterinary exam is essential because aural plaques may resemble other types of (more serious) skin tumors and lesions. A skin scraping (this may require sedation) may be done in order to examine the substance found on the ear under a microscope. Four papillomaviruses have been identified with this condition; a microscopic evaluation can also rule out the presence of mites other parasites.
There is not one set, reliable treatment available for ear papillomas; however, a steroid-based cream for inflammation, and an ointment to soothe the skin appear standard across all cases. Often, the horse will need to be sedated in order to administer the application, particularly the first one, and especially if the ear is tender or sore. It should be noted that the therapy may take a few months before resolution is achieved, and in some cases, the plaques do not clear up entirely. In addition, redness and swelling may occur, making the condition appear worse before it gets better.
Horse owners gently clean their companion’s ears with some frequency. Steroid creams and other soothing ointments are applied to encourage healing. The horse is afforded a fly mask with ears, and appropriate insect repellant solutions are consistently applied. It is suggested not to trim the hair in and around the ears too closely.
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