Two of my last ten patients this week were brought to Westwood Animal Hospital because they had some type of ear problem. A third visited to have routine cleaning done to prevent problems. Itchy, painful, smelly ear problems are one of the more common reasons for visits to the veterinarian. These conditions are typically very irritating for the pet and she will shake her head, scratch, rub her ears against the ground, whine and cry. The inside of the ear is usually inflamed and may have a moist or crusty discharge. If the dog scratches hard enough, a blood vessel in the ear flap may break causing it to swell with blood. This big blood blister is referred to as a hematoma and usually requires surgical correction. The discomfort can be so severe that the pet may lower its head when reached for and may growl or snap.
Some breeds are more susceptible to ear problems and these include Poodles, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds and Chinese Shar-Peis.
There are a variety of reasons why ears may become inflamed and these include bacterial infections, yeast infections, food allergies, environmental allergens, hormonal problems, tumors and parasites, like ear mites.
Since there are many underlying causes of ear problems, it is important that appropriate diagnostics are done so an effective treatment plan can be chosen. The pet won’t get better if you just assume it has ear mites and treat with an insecticide when it actually has a yeast infection. The first step is to examine inside the ears with light and magnification, using an otoscope. In most cases, the next step is to swab material from the ears for staining and a microscopic exam. The microscopic exam can be a very important diagnostic tool, but its value becomes limited if the pet’s ears are filled with medication right before it actually comes in for an exam. So it’s usually best to postpone treatment until a veterinarian has had a chance to to check the ears.
The pet needs to see a veterinarian (before attempting any type of treatment) if you notice:
- The ear is painful
- There is a foul odor
- The ear is very itchy and uncomfortable
- There is fluid in the ear
- There is a lot of debris in the ear
Treatment is determined by the cause of the problem the condition of the ears. If the ears are full of debris, they might require medicated irrigation If all the inflammatory junk (a technical term) is not removed, medication won’t make contact with ear lining and will be less effective. While ear drops are most commonly prescribed, some pets may also require medication to treat an allergy or a diet change. Medication for pain or itching might also be prescribed.
To prevent problems, clean your pet’s ears as needed. Mineral oil on a cotton ball is very effective in cleaning the wax from the inside of the ear flaps and the openings to the ear canals. Be careful not to force anything deep into the canal. Be sure to work with your veterinarian to control allergies. For some dogs, it can be very helpful to instill a drying agent after baths and swimming. A product I like for this is Epi-Otic(TM). It’s also a very safe cleaning agent.