The most common ear problem that plagues or pets is the inflammation or infection of the outer ear canal, technically called otitis externa. The area between the outside opening and the eardrum can be irritated by infections, parasites, allergies and foreign objects.
Signs of Ear Problems
Signs of irritation include scratching, shaking the head, and reacting painfully when the ears are touched. You may also see a discharge. Ear hematomas, (a rupturing of the blood vessels in the ear flap causing the ear flap to swell) are common if irritation goes untreated. Depending on what caused the ear problem, one or both of the ears may be affected.
Diagnosing Ear Problems
Your veterinarian will use an otoscope to look into the ears. Your vet will also take a sample and examine it with the microscope to check for mites, bacteria or yeast. If infection is present, the sample may be sent to a lab for culture. Culturing the ear can give the veterinarian information about the kinds of bacteria and what type of antibiotics will best treat the ear. During the examination, the veterinarian may also see foreign objects such as fox-tails or ticks in the ear canal. If your dogs ears are very painful, sedation or anesthesia may be required to fully examine and treat the ears.
Common Causes of Ear Problems
Some pets are prone to ear problems due to anatomy, allergies, or skin conditions. Ventilation of the ears is poor in dogs with floppy ears, resulting in a warm, moist environment perfect for growth of bacteria and yeast. Certain breeds of dogs are also more likely to suffer from skin allergies and disorders like seborrhea. These skin problems affect the ears too, causing chronic inflammation and susceptibility to infection.
The inside lining of the ear canal, like the rest of the skin, is normally inhabited by bacteria and yeast. These organisms at normal levels are harmless and only cause problems when they multiply out of control. Overgrowth of these organisms causes irritation, inflammation, foul odor and discharge. Chronic infection can lead to damage to ear tissues, including rupture of the ear drum. If the ear drum is ruptured, the infection can gain access to the middle ear, causing serious problems like head tilt, loss of balance, and inability to walk normally. Chronic ear infections may require surgery to remove the diseased ear canal (ear ablation) or to improve air flow to the ear (lateral ear canal resection)
Parasites that can infect the ears include ear mites and ticks. Ear mites are tiny creatures that are just barely visible with the naked eye. You can view the ear video to observe the mites magnified. They are quite contagious between animals. Ear mites cause intense itching and can produce a thick, black waxy discharge. The ear mites cause the ears to itch and the pet will scratch at it incessantly. This can lead to ear or skin infections as well as damage to deeper ear structures. Ticks can attach to the inside of the ears. They may irritate the ears or obstruct the canal, preventing normal ventilation and interfering with hearing.
The most common foreign bodies in the ears are fox-tails or grass awns. These pointy seeds get caught in pets fur and gradually work their way into the skin, nose, ears, and paws where they can cause major damage. Fox-tails in the ears are very irritating. If they are not removed, they can penetrate the ear drum.
Treatment for Ear Problems
Cleaning all the debris from your dog’s ears is the first step to treating his ear problems. This may require sedation or anesthesia. Once the ears are clean, specific medications are prescribed. Antibiotics are used for bacterial infections, anti-fungals for yeast, anti-inflammatories for irritation and allergies, and insecticides for ear mites. Most of the medications are administered directly into your dogs ears proper administration is crucial for effective treatment. Medication must be given exactly as instructed and continued for the full duration prescribed, even if the pet seems to be fully recovered sooner. If the ears were particularly full of debris, weekly flushing may be needed to get all the debris out of the ear.
The final step is to minimize the factors that can put pets at higher risk for ear problems. Allergic skin disease often responds to dietary supplements, antihistamines or anti-inflammatories. Routine ear cleaning with a product recommended by your veterinarian can also help. It is vital that the ears stay clean and the pH of the ear corrected to minimize the return of the yeast or bacteria. Avoid allowing pets in areas that contain fox-tails and check for fox-tails when they return from outdoors. If signs of ear problems recur, seek prompt medical attention before the condition worsens.
For routine cleansing of your pet’s ears, we commonly use T8 Ear Solution.
If your pet has a discharge, pain or itching of his ears, please take your pet to your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment. Using the improper medication will only prolong your pet’s problem and take longer for the ear to heal.
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