Turtles are susceptible to developing middle ear infections, which can cause the ear cavity to become blocked with pus. The middle ear cavity is located under a thin layer of membrane behind the corner of the mouth, and if left untreated, a middle ear infection can spread to your turtle's jaw and skull. Here's an overview of the causes, symptoms and treatment approach for middle ear infections in turtles:
Causes And Symptoms
There are a few common causes of middle ear infections including living in an environment with inadequate sanitation and vitamin A deficiency, which can compromise your turtle's immune system. Aquatic turtles can develop bacterial ear infections if they live in water contaminated with faeces or other debris. Additionally, damage to the protective membrane can allow bacteria into the ear canal. Damage may be caused by another turtle or a collision with an object in your turtle's living space.
The protective membrane should be flat, and a swollen membrane is often the first sign of an ear infection. Other symptoms include a thick discharge from the ear, loss of appetite, clawing at the ear, difficulty swallowing and pain, which may present as irritability.
Middle ear infections are diagnosed with a physical exam of the ear canal and bloodwork, which can highlight inflammation or vitamin A deficiency. Ear infections are treated with antibiotics, which are administered orally or by intramuscular injection.
Surgery is often required to remove the pus that's built up in the ear canal. Surgery is performed under general anaesthetic and involves your vet making an incision in the protective membrane and flushing out the ear canal with a saline and antimicrobial solution. You will then need to clean the affected ear daily to prevent the surgical incision becoming infected, and it can take several weeks for your turtle to heal.
Your vet will work with you to establish the cause of the infection to prevent it recurring, and they can provide advice on safely disinfecting your turtle's living environment and feeding bowls. Turtle's need special handling and commitment to ensure they stay healthy. You need to pay close attention to their diet and living environment, and inexperienced owners should contact their vet clinic with any questions or concerns. The Australian Herpetological Society can also provide guidance on caring for different species of turtle.
If you think your turtle could have an ear infection, schedule an appointment with your vet as soon as possible to prevent unnecessary discomfort.