Can you ear me?

One of the most common health issues we see walk into our boarding kennel and one of the most frequent diagnoses any veterinarian makes is that of canine ear infection. Medically termed otitis externa – an infection of the outer ear canal, and otitis media – infection of the middle ear, an untreated ear infection can lead to serious illness and hearing loss. Although any dog can suffer from an ear infection, those breeds with long, drooping ears like Bassett Hounds or Cocker Spaniels, and those dogs with hairy inner ear flaps, such as the Maltese or Poodle, seem prone to ear infections over other breeds.

Your dog may show signs of an ear infection if he incessantly scratches at his ears, head, and around his neck. You may notice some discharge in the ears, and smell a particularly bad odor. The ears may be swollen, red, and inflamed, and your dog may not want you touching the flaps because of pain. Often, dogs will tilt their heads or shake the head attempting to get rid of the itching and fluid. Your dog might even become irritable or lethargic.

There are innumerable causes for a dog’s ear infection including external parasites such as mites or fleas. Different types of bacteria and yeast cause ear infections and thrive in the moist environment of your dog’s ears. Food allergies in dogs often manifest themselves in infected, itching ears. Dogs can pick up foreign bodies that get wedged in the ear canal causing injury and bacterial infections. Hormonal imbalances, including hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, and diabetes often result in skin and ear problems.

If no foreign body is involved, your veterinarian will diagnose what causes your dog’s ear infection by first looking in the ear with a lighted otoscope, then taking a sample swab of the exudate, or fluid, in your dog’s ear and examining it under a microscope. Live mites can be seen moving about on a microscopic slide, and bacteria and yeast are easily identified after the slide is stained and dried.

Veterinary treatment depends on the cause of your dog’s ear infection. Topical, and sometimes systemic, antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections, while anti-fungals work to kill yeast infections. Ear mites are typically treated with an anti-parasitic medication over a period of a few weeks. A dog with allergies commonly receives a thorough ear cleaning with a solution made especially for that purpose, antihistamines, and fatty acid supplements to help with the skin condition.

The key to preventing ear disease in your dog is keeping the ears dry and clean. Check your dog’s ears on a regular basis, and, if you notice any inflammation, itching, or bad odors, see your veterinarian immediately.