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DOG EAR INFECTIONS: THE BASICS The medical term for an ear infection is otitis, or an inflammation of the ear. Your doggie could get one of three types, depending on what part of their ear is affected: • Otitis Externa develops when the outer ear canal becomes inflamed • Otitis Medina refers to inflammation of the middle ear • Otitis Interna is a serious condition affecting the inner ear that can lead to permanent damage HOW COMMON ARE EAR INFECTIONS IN DOGS? Dog ear infections don’t discriminate. Any pooch can develop one at any time regardless of age, breed or medical history. However, doggies with allergies and certain medical conditions such as hypothyroidism are at a higher risk of ear infections. As many as 20% of dogs have some form of ear disease. Dogs are more prone to ear infections than humans because of the shape of their ear canals. If your dog is showing any of the common signs of ear infections, it’s important to visit your veterinarian as soon as possible. Infection of the external ear canal (outer ear infection) is called otitis externa and is one of the most common types of infections seen in dogs. Some breeds, particularly those with large, floppy or hairy ears like Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Poodles, or Old English Sheepdogs, appear to be more prone to ear infections, but ear infections may occur in any breed. SYMPTOMS OF DOG EAR INFECTIONS Some dogs show no symptoms of ear infection aside from a buildup of wax and discharge in the ear canal. But ear infections often cause significant discomfort and affected dogs may show signs such as: • Head shaking • Scratching at the affected ear • Dark discharge • Odor • Redness and swelling of the ear canal • Pain • Itchiness • Crusting or scabs in the ears • Loss of balance • Unusual eye movements • Reluctance to chew WHAT CAUSES DOG EAR INFECTIONS ? There are a lot of factors that can contribute to your pooch developing an ear infection. Some common ones include excess hair in the ear canal, earwax buildup or too much moisture. However these factors are only contributors. Typically, dog ear infections are linked to an underlying cause such as: • Allergies • Parasites (like ear mites) • Foreign bodies • Hormone imbalances • Tumours or polyps • Physical trauma (like deep scratches) HOW TO DIAGNOSE If you suspect an ear infection, schedule a visit with your veterinarian so that they may perform a thorough physical examination to determine the root cause. They can also check your pup for any self-trauma, deformities of the outer ear and abnormal tissue growth that could lead to ear infections. Next, the veterinarian may examine your dog’s ears with an otoscope. This handy device gives a magnified view inside your pal’s ears and helps identify impacted debris, ear mites, or anything else causing trouble. It also lets the veterinarian know if the eardrum has been ruptured or damaged in anyway. If your pooch is in a lot of pain or tends to get nervous in these situations, they may need to be sedated for this part of the examination. From there, your veterinarian may want to take tissue cultures or examine your pup’s discharge for parasites. If allergies are the suspected culprit, your veterinarian may recommend allergy testing. If there’s a chance the middle or inner ear is affected, your dog may need an X-ray. In severe, long-term cases where just one ear is affected, a tumour may be present, and your dog could require a biopsy. ARE DOG EAR INFECTIONS CONTAGIOUS? It depends on the cause, but the majority of dog ear infections are not contagious. If the cause is ear mites, though, these parasites are extremely contagious. With ear mites, all pets in the home must be treated simultaneously. Ear mites are relatively common in puppies and kittens and may not be noticed initially when adopting a new pet. But shortly after bringing your new pet home, multiple pets in the house will be scratching and shaking. Rarely, a methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or possible other contagious infection can be cultured from an infected ear. It is recommended to practice good hand washing when interacting with a pet with an ear infection and to limit other pets licking the infected pet’s ears. Good hand washing is also recommended after cleaning or medicating the ear to limit any topical absorption of medication. WILL A DOG EAR INFECTION GO AWAY ON ITS OWN? Most often, a dog ear infection will not go away on its own. All types of otitis require a veterinarian to evaluate the infection and the eardrum. If the eardrum is ruptured, certain cleaners and medications can be toxic to the middle ear. CAN YOU TREAT DOG EAR INFECTIONS AT HOME? The simple answer is no. Dog ear infections require vet treatment and medication in order to restore a healthy ear canal. After the veterinarian has evaluated your pet, they will determine if any further home treatment is appropriate. This can be done if a small amount of debris is present and the eardrum is intact. TREATMENTS Your veterinarian will likely need to test the ear debris or perform scans of your dog’s ear to choose the appropriate treatment. These are some tests that your vet might conduct: • Cytology uses special stains on the swab of debris to color the microscopic bacterial cells or fungus. Viewing these under the microscope can identify the specific cause. • Culture/sensitivity testing uses special medium/broth to grow and identify the specific bacteria that are causing the infection. It also tests which antibiotics will be effective in eliminating the infection. • Blood testing may be needed to check for endocrine disease as an underlying condition. • Skull x-rays, a CT scan, or an MRI may be needed to assess the extent of severe or inner ear disease. Once the details of your dog’s ear infection are known, therapy will likely consist of multiple elements that may include topical, oral, or surgical therapies. Topical Often, a cleanser in combination with an ointment or eardrop can be used. This medication typically needs to get deep into the ear canal. Sometimes an oti-pack is used. This medication is in a lanolin base that is slowly released and does not require daily cleaning or application of drops. Oral Depending on the severity of the infection, an oral antibiotic, antifungal, or a steroid medication may be used to help heal the ear from the “inside out.” Surgical Ears that have had severe chronic disease may no longer respond to medical treatments. The goal of surgery for these ears is to open the canal or sometimes to completely remove all diseased tissue. HOW TO PREVENT EAR INFECTIONS IN DOGS AND PUPPIES Regular grooming, ear cleaning, and ear maintenance are important parts of pet care. Routine ear cleansing is especially important if your dog swims often. Cleaning is best accomplished with a professional dog ear cleaning product. These typically have been specifically formulated for effective pH ranges for dogs and contain drying agents. KEY POINTS FOR DOGS EAR CLEANING • Do not use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, as they can kill healthy ear cells. • Do not stick cotton swabs down into your dog’s ear, as this can risk rupturing the eardrum. • It is okay to use cotton balls or ear wipes to clean crevices and the earflap. DOG EAR CLEANING TECHNIQUE • Apply liquid cleanser to the ear as directed. • Close the earflap and massage the base of the ears. • Gently wipe clean with a cloth or cotton balls. • Apply any medication prescribed.
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