My dog has an ear infection…..AGAIN! So what gives??
Ear infections are one of the most common things that we as veterinarians treat on a daily basis. Ear infections are painful, itchy and basically just stink (literally)! Ear infections are not very common in people, usually affecting children and rarely adults, but dogs have recurrent ear infections and sometimes chronic ear infections. So what is so different about our pets that makes them more susceptible to ear infects?
There are two underlying reasons dogs can be predisposed to ear infections, the anatomy of the ear and anything that results in inflammation of the ear canal.
The anatomy of a dog’s ear.
A dog and a cat’s ear is shaped much differently that a human ear. Dogs and cats have a horizontal and vertical ear canal, whereas our ear canal goes straight into the ear. Think of your pet’s ear as “L” shaped.
The shape makes it more difficult for water and debris to work its way out of the ear. This creates an environment that supports the growth of bacteria and yeast, the key components of an ear infection.
Due to the many different breeds, often this anatomy is even more altered, such as a Shar-pei. The opening to their canal is very small, or stenotic. This decreases the ability of the ear to drain. Additionally some breeds, such as Poodles have a large amount of hair in their ear canals that trap dirt and moisture inside the ear canal.
There are numerous variations but all lead to a decreased ability of the ear to drain and increases production of ear wax.
Anytime there is increased inflammation in an area, there is a higher risk of infection. The body’s natural barriers for invading bacteria and yeast are compromised and an infection ensues.
Specifically within the ear there are several causes of inflammation. Ear mites, foreign material such as grass awns and by far and away the most common is food allergies. Food allergies are one of the most common causes of recurrent ear infections in dogs. Food allergies in pets appear much differently than in humans and result in inflammation, often in the ear and GI tract. The ear infection is often treated, resolves, then returns again because the source of the infection is never address, such as a diet change.
How do I know if my dog has an ear infection?
There are many different clinical signs of an ear infection, based on the type of infection, severity and if one or both of the ears is infected. These signs include
- Scratching at the ears or shaking the head
- Whining or crying out when the ears are touched
- Redness of the ear canal
- Excessive debris, particularly that returns soon after cleaning
- Foul smell to the ears
- Ear hematoma- bleeding into the tissue of the ear from vigorous head shaking.
How is an ear infection treated in my pet?
First your veterinarian will want to perform an ear cytology of the debris in the ear. This is just a simple cotton swab placed in the ear and the debris is visualized under the microscope to determine what type of infection is present. This allows your veterinarian to treat with the appropriate medication.
Your veterinarian will likely clean the debris from the ear and then send home a topical medication given directly in the ear canal and likely ear cleaner as well. After completion of the medication, the ears are rechecked to ensure the infection is gone.
Occasionally, some pets have very resistant and/or recurrent infections.
Resistant infections are those that do not respond to typical therapy. Often a culture of the bacteria is taken to find a very specific antibiotic that will treat the infection.
Recurrent infections mean that the underlying reason has not been addressed. A diet change is often needed for dogs with food allergies to stop this repetitive cycle.
Chronic, end stage ear infections
Chronic, untreated ear infections can lead to many unfortunate problems
- severe scaring of the ear,
- mineralization of the ear canal,
- inner ear infections,
- ruptured tympanic membrane (ear drum)
- loss of hearing
This can result in the need for surgical intervention depending on the state of the ear canal.
Knowing that ear infections are a common problem in pets, recognizing the signs and seeking veterinary care at the first sign of a problem can help your pup beat that ear infection and prevent long term painful and costly treatment.
Please contact your veterinarian with any questions regarding your pet’s health. I am available to answer any of your questions or concerns.
Alisha Spivey, DVM
University Veterinary Hospital
7700 East Kings Hwy