A dog’s ear canal has a vertical and a horizontal component. This predisposes dogs to ear infections because debris must work its way upward rather than straight out.
Allergies are the most common cause as the irritation promotes the accumulation of ear wax, skin oil, and other debris; which feed the bacteria and fungi that live in the normal ear canal and soon results in infection. Other causes of ear infections include ear mites; or hair growth deep in the canal, which is especially common in poodles and schnauzers. Should a pet have the issue of hair growth in the canal, plucking the ears under sedation periodically can prevent infection from forming. The moisture of the wax promotes bacterial growth and infection. It isn’t long before the pet is seen scratching at his ears, shaking his head, or holding one ear slightly dropped. Discharge and odor may also be noticeable to people.
Complications of Ear Infection
If the infection reaches the middle ear, affected animals may have a head tilt, a lack of balance, and unusual back-and-forth eye movements, called nystagmus. These symptoms are called vestibular signs and represent a complication of middle ear infection. Middle ear infections can also cause paralysis of the facial nerve, leading to a slack-jawed appearance on that side of the face.
Treating Ear Infections
Most ear infections are cleared up simply with professional cleaning followed by medication at home. If there is only mild debris in the ear canals, simple disinfection and washing of the ear are adequate. A sample of ear discharge is commonly examined under the microscope to assist in determining the most effective medications for home use.
However, in some cases, a fully sedated ear flush is needed to even examine the eardrum and remove inciting debris. After a week or more of home treatment, the ear canals are rechecked to be sure the infection is gone. If a patient has a history of particularly stubborn ear infections or numerous recurrences, treatment focus shifts to prevention, such as weekly ear disinfection, once the acute infection is eliminated.
Some dogs have chronic ear problems in which the infection is not controlled by general medication or returns when general medication is discontinued. In these cases, the ear discharge should be cultured so that the precise organism can be pinpointed and treated specifically. Regular treatment at home with disinfecting ear washes should become part of the pet’s grooming routine. Should your pet begin to experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms, please call to schedule an exam before symptoms advance into more serious issues.