All About Dog Ear Infection
Ear disease is quite common in dogs and can result from a range of factors, including bacterial and fungal infections, ear mites, allergies, foreign bodies such as grass seed or sand, tumors, over-active glands or skin cell replacement.
Inflammation of the outer ear is known as otitis externa. The shape of a dog's ear canal predisposes it to a number of diseases, as it has not evolved well for drainage or ventilation. It is L-shaped, with a vertical canal, then a horizontal canal leading up to the ear drum.
The ear drum is a membrane forming a barrier protects the delicate hearing and balance apparatus in the middle and inner ear. The ear is lined with skin containing two types of glands which secrete ear wax, and in many cases, hair. A dog's ears have evolved to be self-cleaning, as the skin grows outwards and carries debris towards the ear opening like a conveyor belt. Any disease in the ear can upset this mechanism, causing accumulation of discharges and further inflammation.
Ear disease is quite common in dogs and can result from a range of factors, including bacterial infections, fungal infections, ear mites, allergies, foreign bodies such as grass seed or sand, tumors, over-active glands or skin cell replacement. Dogs with narrow ear canals (like Shar Peis), very hairy ears (poodles), or floppy ears (like spaniels) tend to have poorer ventilation in their ears, which raises the ear's internal humidity. This provides a perfect environment for bacterial and fungal overgrowth.
Dogs with skin allergies such as atopy (an inhaled allergy) often have inflamed ears, which are warmer than the normal healthy organs, again making the area perfect for bacterial or fungal growth. Excessively waxy ears also provide a good food source for bugs, also promoting their growth.
Dogs which suffer repeated ear infections frequently suffer changes in their ear canal - the walls thicken and harden, making the tube narrower and compromising airflow, which again raises the humidity and predisposes the dog to more infections.
The common signs indicating a dog has an ear problem include:
- scratching at ears
- shaking the head or rubbing the ears on furniture, the carpet or grass
- red, inflamed ears, which may be painful to touch
- excess discharge from the ear, including wax and flaky skin
- an unpleasant odor from the ear
- balance problems, tilting the head or falling to one side
- hearing loss or complete deafness.
If you notice any of these signs, you should take the dog to your veterinarian for an examination. They will most likely look down the ear with an otoscope to see what is going on, and check to see whether the ear drum is still intact.
If there are ear mites present, they can often be seen with the otoscope scurrying away from the light. Your vet may also take a big wad of ear wax and smear it on a slide, then use a microscope to look for different types of bacteria or fungi. The veterinarian may send a sample away to a laboratory to identify the bacteria and check which antibiotics are effective in killing them.
Once they have diagnosed what the problem is, they may recommend medicated ear drops, ear cleaners, oral antibiotics or anti-inflammatories, or a combination of these, to treat the disease. Sometimes it is necessary to anesthetize the dog to clean out the ear canal properly, so that treatment at home will be effective. It may be necessary to remove a grass seed or other foreign body from the ear, so it can start to heal.
Ear disease can be very frustrating to combat so follow all of your veterinarian's instructions carefully and ensure you treat the affliction the required number of times each day and for the correct length of time to avoid a relapse. Recurring ear problems can be much more difficult to treat, so getting on top of the problem at the outset is best.