By Dr. Julie Damron
Stockton Record June 27, 2009
Ear infections in dogs can happen any time of year; but in our area seem more frequent in spring and summer. Such conditions can be a frustration for both pets and owners, and can lead to other more serious problems if left untreated.
The ear consists of a flap or pinna, which covers the opening of the ear. The ear canal that you see when you look in your pets ear is the horizontal canal. This is the short portion of the ear canal that dips down leading to a much deeper vertical canal. At the end of this tunnel is the ear drum, which separates the middle and inner ear canals. The structures for hearing and balance are located here. Severe infections can invade this area, and are much more complicated to treat.
Ear infections are characterized by varying degrees of redness, swelling, tenderness, discharge, and frequently an odor emanating from your companion's ear. Canines will typically shake their heads, scratch at their ears, or rub their ears/face. The problem can be caused by several things including but not limited to allergies, bacteria, fungi, foreign bodies such as foxtails, and/or frequent exposure to water from swimming and bathing. Certain breeds of dogs are more prone to ear maladies both genetically with respect to allergies, and by the conformation of their ears. Retrievers, Spaniels, Weimaraners, and any canine that has long floppy ears that hang down over the ear opening may be more at risk. Drooping ear flaps inhibit good ventilation in the ear canal, and can predispose your pet to ear infections.
There are many aspects to treating ear infections in dogs, and no therapy should be initiated without advice from your veterinarian. Identifying the underlying problem and contributing risk factors can make this process much more successful. Your veterinarian will conduct a visual exam of the ear. A scope may be used to examine the anatomy of your pet's ear canal. This technique is used to evaluate the ear drum, locate and remove foreign bodies, and identify masses or polyps. Your veterinarian may be able to identify the causative organisms based on visual inspection of the ear discharge. Sometimes an ear culture and antibacterial sensitivity testing is needed. Often a combination of oral therapy and medication applied directly in to the ear will be needed for your companion.
A thorough cleaning of the ears is essential to remove debris so that medication can get deep within the ear canal. This process also helps to remove the organisms and debris that can be irritating to your companion. Your veterinarian my perform the initial cleaning under anesthesia for your companion's comfort. Routine cleaning of the ears can help to keep chronic conditions more controlled, and also help you identify when an infection is present.
Allergies can be a triggering factor; managing allergies can help in controlling your pet's ear maladies. Swimming is a common risk factor that can lead to ear infections. This activity should be limited in any canine that has significant ear problems. Some patients may require long term and even life-long therapy to keep symptoms controlled. Your veterinarian is the best source of information for proper ear care for your pet, and may create a custom treatment plan for your companion.