Ear Problems In Dogs
Signs that your pet may be at risk for severe ear disease include:
- Ears routinely have a lot of discharge in them, whether pus, wax, or “dirt”*
- Ears are often painful
- Often yelps or whines when ears are touched or avoids contact
- Ears are often red
- Ears often have an odor
- Often shakes head
- Often scratches at the ear(s) or side(s) of head below ear opening(s)
- Often seeks to have her/his ears rubbed (because ears are itchy)
- Often moans or groans when ears are rubbed
- Ear infections never seem to go away or come right back as soon as ear medicine stopped
* Dr. Byrne has noticed that some people call the dark brown material in their dog’s ears “dirt”. Only rarely is this material soil. Almost always it is abnormal wax from yeast ear infection or some other health problem.
Ear problems in dogs are most commonly otitis externa, followed by otitis media. Otitis interna is rare and usually also presents with signs of nervous system disorder.
When people say their pet has an “ear infection” they are usually referring to a bacterial and/or yeast infection of their dog’s ear(s). Most dogs will only rarely get an ear infection and for some dogs the only ear infection they’ve had was when they were a puppy. However, some dogs will develop ear infections periodically throughout their lives. As long as those infections are completely cleared up and do not result in lasting damage to the ear, therapy with ear medications as these infections arise is adequate. However, it is important to make sure the ear canal is examined after ear therapy is complete. Many dogs are stoic and do not show signs of discomfort when otitis is only present at the very bottom of the ear canal and this localized infection can cause lasting damage to the ear canal if it is not found by thorough examination.
If otitis is present for too long, the ear canal can close permanently making medical therapy unlikely to help. At this point surgery is needed: usually total ear canal ablation with bulla osteotomy (the ear canal is removed and the middle ear is surgically opened and drained). This is a technically demanding surgery and usually requires a surgery specialist. It is important to control and stop the progression of ear disease early if you wish to avoid the need for surgery of your pet.
Important Points about Otitis in Dogs:
Probably the single biggest difficulty for owners of dogs with recurring ear infections is lack of knowledge of what is going on inside their dog’s ear canals. Reduction in the amount of head-shaking or ear scratching a dog is doing means the ears are not as painful or itchy, but does not mean the ear infection is completely gone.
Many dogs will stop showing ear discomfort before an ear infection is completely gone. The only way to know if there pet’s ear infection is really cleared up is to take their pet in for examination with otoscope or video-endoscope. The majority of ear infections happen because a pet has allergies. As long as your pet has unmanaged allergies, her/his ears will always be susceptible to infections and at risk for eventually developing irreversible ear disease.
Dr. Byrne is experienced in diagnosing and managing the underlying problems that can result in otitis and he is also experienced in treating inflammation and ear infections to help your pet feel better at the same time.
Disorders of the ear flap (“pinna”):
Similar to the outer and middle ears, the pinna can be affected by a number of disorders including allergic skin disease, autoimmune disease, inflammatory skin disease, inherited skin disorders, etc… Of course it is easier to see the pinna than the ear canal and so problems of the pinna usually do not go unnoticed.
Some of the more common pinna disorders:
Aural hematoma: a large swelling occurs when blood forms a pocket between the skin of the pinna and the ear cartilage. Although not life-threatening, it can be uncomfortable and it can result in contracture (crumpled/folded appearance) of the pinna leading to a less-attractive pinna. The cause is thought to be due to excessive shaking of the head and/or scratching of the ears. However, there must be another cause involved because most dogs who shake their head or scratch their ears do not develop an aural hematoma. After drainage of blood, various surgical methods can be used to try to prevent blood from accumulating again.
Ear Margin Dermatosis: scabs (crusts) develop along the edge of the pinna causing hair loss when the crusts fall off or are picked off. The cause is unknown. Treatment can be using topical therapies and sometimes oral medications can be used for more severe cases. Pinnal vasculitis: ulcers and scabs develop in the middle of the pinna. Damage to the small blood vessels and capillaries of the pinna are thought to cause the lesions. Small blood vessels can be damaged in many ways including autoimmune disease or infection. Allergies: in some pets, itchiness and scaliness of the ears are the only signs they have allergic skin disease. Parasitic disorders: Sarcoptes mite parasites (scabies), Demodex mites (demodicosis), chiggers, poultry/bird mites can sometimes parasitize the ears and cause discomfort.
Dr. Byrne is experienced in diagnosing and managing these and numerous other disorders, both common and rare, of the ear canal and pinna of dogs.
(Summary) Ear Problems in Dogs
Canine ear problems include:
- Ear Infections
- Debris in ears
- Hormone Disorders
- Other Causes
- Heavy wax build up in the ears
- Dirty looking ears
- Bad smell or odor from the ears
- Ear scratching
- Excessive head shaking or tilting the head from side to side
- Rubbing ears against other surfaces