Take care of your dog’s ears

Take care of your dog’s ears

Dogs have great ears. Your dog can hear sounds over a wider range of frequencies and at a greater distance than you. Unfortunately, dogs pay a price...

Dogs have great ears. Your dog can hear sounds over a wider range of frequencies and at a greater distance than you. Unfortunately, dogs pay a price for their superior hearing abilities. A dog’s ear design contributes both to his advanced hearing and to many ear problems he may experience. Ear mites, infections and aural hematoma are the most common conditions. Read on to discover the symptoms of ear disorders in dogs and how to prevent and treat them.

Otitis externa, the inflammation of the outer ear canal is the most common complaint in dogs. It is critical to remember that the term otitis externa means only inflammation of the ear canal, without implying any underlying cause; therefore, dogs with acute otitis externa treated symptomatically with no attempt to address causative factor(s) will likely experience recurrences of ear disease. Unlike man, the dog ear canal has two components: a vertical part and a horizontal part, that make cleaning of entire ear canal difficult at home.

Signs to watch: The skin that lines the outer ear often becomes red, itchy, and painful. Pus, waxy material, and other debris can accumulate. Ear problems can cause head shaking, scratching and rubbing, a foul odour, abnormal behaviour or even irritability, and hearing loss in long-term situations.

Otitis externa may be caused by organisms and foreign substances entering the ear canal from the external environment, the middle ear and Eustachian tube, or from the systemic circulation.

Certain factors predispose to otitis externa in the dog, such as anatomically pendulous ears; narrowing of the ear canal; increased numbers of glands and hair follicles in the ear canal; chronic exposure to water (via swimming, etc) and increased moisture in the ear canal; trauma; allergies (Atopy, Food allergy, etc) are also common causes of ear diseases in dogs.

Otitis externa may occur as a simple inflammatory reaction or may develop in association with infestations of parasites (Ear mites, Mange mites like Demodex, Sarcoptes, fleas, ticks, etc), overgrowth of bacteria, and overgrowth of fungi and yeast. It may also accompany masses in the ear canal or disorders of keratinization, or be a component of other immune-mediated or endocrine diseases. Iatrogenic forms also occur, and may follow overzealous cleaning or hair plucking from the ear and inadequate treatment.

After obtaining a complete medical history, your veterinarian can perform an ear exam in which a tiny light source or otoscope. Your veterinarian may also gently swab inside the ears and examine the contents under a microscope to look for parasites, bacteria, yeast, fungi, and abnormal cells. In some cases, a small sample of skin (biopsy) can be removed. In very bad cases or recurrent cases, special radiography tests (CT or computed tomography or MRI) may be advised.

Otitis externa can be both easy to treat and difficult to treat. Your vet may prescribe pills and ear-drops that contain antibiotics, anti-yeast and or anti-inflammatory drugs besides specific treatment for the underlying cause. Your vet may advise ear cleaning and drying agents for use at home to keep the ears clean.

Talk to your veterinarian before placing any medicine or cleaning products in your pet’s ears. Some products can cause more severe problems if they are used under the wrong circumstances.

Never insert anything (cotton-tipped swabs) into the ear canal. Cotton balls may be used for wiping dissolved wax and cleaning fluid from the inner surface of the pinna (ear flap), but cotton buds or tips only push debris back into the deeper parts of the canal, which is counterproductive and could be dangerous.

Visible improvement in comfort should be apparent within 24-48 hours of beginning treatment for otitis externa. Head-shaking, rubbing of the ears on the ground, constant pawing or scratching at the ears or signs of pain on touching the ears may indicate an ongoing disease process, and likely inflammation, in the ear.

Do not pluck hairs from your pet’s ears. This activity can traumatize the skin and lead to more inflammation, not less. All cases should be rechecked periodically (10-14 days) to determine the response to treatment, and to watch for signs of recurrence. Therapy should be continued for a long enough time period (two or more weeks) to ensure the otitis does immediately recur or persist as a chronic form of the disease.

If the dog fails to respond to initial therapy, then repetition of diagnostic tests is recommended to determine if the underlying cause was originally misdiagnosed or if the underlying cause has changed.
The key step in preventing acute otitis externa from becoming chronic otitis externa is to determine what underlying disease induced the alterations and resolve or control this primary problem.

Aural Hematoma:

If your dog shakes his head and ears excessively, due to a problem on the inside, he may develop a hematoma. A hematoma is a result of a blood vessel breaking in the earflap. Symptoms: If your dog develops a hematoma, his earflap will swell noticeably and feel hot to the touch.

Prevention and Treatment: A hematoma is painful and although it will heal on its own, it is wise to take your dog to the vet. Your vet can lance the area to relieve the pressure and let the healing begin. The surgery may also prevent ridging and scarring on the earflap, which may result if you let the hematoma heal on its own. Ear problems, especially infections, in dogs can be hard to eradicate – but usually, because people are not good at following the treatment procedure.

Sometimes ear infections require several visits to the vet and a change of medication. It is very important to ensure that you follow your vet’s recommendations, and continue to bring your dog in for check-ups until the problem is completely eliminated.

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