Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment
There are three major types of ear infections, all starting with the word “otitis” (meaning inflammation): internal, media and externa. Each type affects a different part of the dog’s ear. Ear infections are very common in dog breeds with big floppy ears such as Cocker Spaniels and Basset Hounds.
Approximately 20% of dogs have one or more ear infections at some point in their lives. There are ways you can decrease the severity and incidents of ear infections, which can affect one or both ears at the same time.
Interna and media are the types that affect the inner and middle ear passage and often are caused by an infection that starts in the outer part of the ear.
Externa refers to the outer ear. Inflammation can affect the cells that line the outer part of the ear passage.
There are many possible symptoms a dog may exhibit if an ear infection exists. Due to the extreme sensitivity of a dog’s ear canal, some symptoms are very obvious. Symptoms include:
• Shaking of the head.
• Scaly skin.
• Pawing at the ear.
• A smelly, dark discharge.
• Swelling and redness.
How do dogs get infections in their ear(s)?
A dog’s ear passage is in an “L” shape and more vertical than that of a human ear. The shape causes a certain degree of fluid retention as a result, thereby increasing the likelihood of ear infections happening.
Ear infections can be caused by many things including:
• Mites (less frequent in adult dogs than puppies).
• Reactions to drugs.
• Thyroid disorders.
• Moisture (a good breeding ground for yeast and bacteria).
• Build-up of wax.
• Autoimmune disease.
• Excessive cleaning.
• Foreign matter.
• Hormone issues.
• Plant material.
• Diseases of the endocrine system (for example, diabetes).
• Allergies (50% of dogs with skin problems and 80% of dogs with food allergies will have ear infections at some point).
Advanced cases of ear problems can be extremely serious and may cause facial paralysis, deafness, vestibular disease (poor coordination, dizziness, circling and head tilting). Prevention, early diagnosis and treatment are crucial in avoiding ear problems becoming worse.
Your vet needs to precisely diagnose the ear infection.
As soon as you notice any problems with your dog’s ears, you must visit the vet as a matter of urgency. Ear problems may be very painful and can spread and get worse quickly. Don’t attempt to treat such problems yourself.
Provide your vet with as complete a history of your pet as possible. If you’re seeing your regular vet, he’ll have the history already. However, if you visit an emergency hospital or vet you haven’t seen before, he won’t know anything until you give him the relevant information. Ear infections can hit at any time of day or night. Your dog may wake in the middle of the night, scratching his ear violently and whining loudly. So get him straight to the vet or hospital.
Information you’ll need to give your vet:
• Duration of, and type of, symptoms.
• What food you have given your dog.
• If he’s on medications for any reason.
• How often you clean his ears.
• If he has allergies or other health issues.
• Any previous ear infections (when, what type and how were they treated)?
• Recent activities such as a groomer’s session, a bath, swimming or walking in a dog park.
• If you have trimmed his ear hair.
The vet will need to examine your dog’s ears. He may use sedation if the ears are too sore to be handled. Even if one ear is the problem, he’ll always check both anyway.
His exam would generally include:
• Visually looking for any symptoms such as redness, rawness, inflammation, crustiness, blood or other oozing matter or anything else that shouldn’t be there.
• A gentle ear massage to test pain levels.
• Tissue cultures and examination.
• Biopsy and/or x-rays (in more severe and chronic cases).
• Using an Otoscope. This looks into the ear to see if foreign objects, waxy build-up, ear mites or damage exists.
It’s only after an exam is done that a vet can decide on the best treatment plan. Usually he’ll clean both ears properly and prescribe either oral or topical medication that you’ll keep on using at home. He’ll also usually prescribe painkillers to help reduce inflammation.
You’ll need to take him back to the vet to be checked again within the following week or so, to ensure the ears are healing or have healed. You’ll need to keep a close eye on his ears until they’re fully healthy.
Easy cases can be settled within 10-30 days. However, some may become chronic and other times it might be months before the ears come good.
Do everything your vet tells you to do, without any detours, or your beloved pet may suffer more, have the same problem again or it may last longer. Use all of the medication, even if the ears look ok half way through the treatment.
Tips to help you prevent your dog from having ear infections.
Prevention is the best medicine. Learn the right way to clean your pet’s ears. If moisture causes his problems, ensure you dry his ears fully after he has had a swim and avoid water getting in his ears while bathing him.
Here’s a good way to clean your pet’s ears.
Fill his ear canal with a special cleaning solution. Massage the outer part of the vertical ear canal. Wipe it dry and clean with absorbent gauze. Avoid cotton and paper towels as they can leave fibres in the ear which can cause irritation.
Be aware that dogs would normally scratch their ears or shake their head after you have applied the cleaning solution so let him do it.
Cotton buds can be used to clean the ear’s folds but never slide them inside the canal or you may push debris in deeper and it can end up being in a clump. It may even rupture the ear drum itself.
When cleaning your pet’s ears, have some treats handy, especially if he’s being good and keeping still. Praise him for being a good dog and perhaps do something fun with him afterwards.
Part of caring for your dog is managing his overall health, and that includes his ears. It’s important to have a good vet because you can rely on him for help if your dog needs him. Prevention is always best, although it’s not always possible.
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