In the fall of 2011, Sandy Breckenridge noticed something unusual about her dog Murphy, a 3˝-year-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel.
In the mornings, when she would come downstairs, her miniature schnauzer Holly perked up for a greeting. But Murphy stayed sleeping.
Breckenridge says there were other, "little things,” that made her concerned about the health of her pet, a sweet, laid-back dog who visited nursing homes for pet therapy. Murphy didn’t respond to loud noises and had started to look to Holly for cues on how to respond to things.
Murphy had a history of ear infections, but after a round of medication and an ear flush at the vet’s office didn’t help, a technician recommended a full hearing examination at UC’s FETCH~LAB, the Facility for Education and Testing of Canine Hearing and Lab Animal Bioacoustics.
"They determined he was pretty much deaf in both ears,” says Breckenridge. "If I clapped really loudly, he could hear that, and he’d respond to a man’s deep voice, but other than that, there was no response.”
But FETCH~LAB director Pete Scheifele, PhD, didn’t have an immediate diagnosis.
"Murphy was too old for congenital hearing loss, but too young for age-related loss,” says Scheifele, an assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders at UC.
Suspecting it could be a disease of the middle ear common to the breed, Scheifele referred Murphy to Lynette Cole, a veterinary dermatologist and otologist and associate professor at Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center.
After more testing, Cole confirmed the diagnosis: Primary Secretory Otitis Media (PSOM or "glue ear”). The condition potentially results from improper draining of the Eustachian tubes, and a buildup of a thick mucus plug in the middle ear that presses on the ear drum.
An examination revealed Murphy’s ear drum was bulging from the pressure of the collected fluid.
"This is a common disease in Cavaliers,” says Cole, who is conducting research on the prevalence of PSOM in Cavalier King Charles spaniels as well as its clinical signs and methods of diagnoses and treatment. "But sometimes the hearing loss is sensioneural and removing the mucus doesn’t bring back the dog’s hearing.”
After confirming Murphy’s hearing loss was conductive, meaning it was due to the physical blockage of the mucus in the middle ear, Cole performed a myringotomy on Murphy, making a tiny incision in his eardrums and flushing out the mucus.
Breckenridge says it only took a couple of days for Murphy to start responding to things. In February, a follow-up test at FETCH~LAB confirmed it: While Murphy still had moderate to severe loss in his right ear, his hearing in his left ear was completely normal.
Cole continues to work with Breckenridge to monitor Murphy’s hearing and provide follow-up care.
"The problem with treating this disease,” says Cole, "is that we can remove the mucus from the middle ear, which is causing the conductive hearing loss, but that doesn’t prevent the mucus from coming back. At this point, we don’t know what triggers PSOM and don’t have permanent treatments to fix it. We know very little about the maturation of the Eustachian tubes in dogs.”
"Murphy was the first case of this disease that we saw at FETCH~LAB,” says Scheifele, "but now we have two more dogs coming in who have been seen by Dr. Cole and we hope to learn more about this condition. But the best part was that Murphy got his hearing back. We’re very excited.”
So is Murphy, reports Breckenridge: "He’s definitely starting to get friskier,” she says. "He wants to play again.”