Ear disease

Ear disease or Otitis Externa means inflammation of the outer part of the ear passage (also known as the external ear canal). It is a very common condition and particularly so in dogs. However it is a complex disease which is often due to a number of triggers.


How to detect an ear infection in your dog

Unfortunately our pets can't tell us when they have a problem, so it is the responsibility of all of us, the owners, to recognise signs of ill health.

Ear disease can manifest itself in many ways:

  • Excessive scratching and pawing of the ear and head
  • Rubbing the head on the floor or sofa
  • Unpleasant odour
  • Sensitivity to the touch - may cry out when ear touched
  • Shaking of the head or tilting head to one side
  • Black or yellow discharge in the ear
  • Accumulation of dark brown wax
  • Redness or swelling of the ear flap
  • Changes in behaviour such as lethargy, depression or irritability
  • Loss of hearing or balance and disorientation
  • Bleeding from the ear


So what causes ear disease in dogs?
The ear canal provides an ideal environment for the growth of bacteria and yeasts. However these organisms in their own right do not actually cause ear disease. They are what we term opportunists and they make the most of the situation created by other factors.
There are many causes of ear disease. Common triggers include:
Anatomy of the Ear - especially droopy 'spaniel type' ears
Foreign bodies - grass seeds in the summer
Ear mites - more common in cats
Tumours
Allergic skin disease. Atopy triggered by a sensitivity to aeroallergens such as house dust mites and pollens is one example in which the ears are one of the body regions which are particularly prone to inflammation and itch
Swimming can lead to wetting of the ear canal. Recurrent wetting will change the microclimate to favour infection.
Bathing with the introduction of water into the ear canal. Always avoid the ears at bath time.


How is ear disease in dogs treated?

Ear disease is treated in a number of ways dependant on the underlying cause and how long-standing it is. Your vet will recommend an appropriate regime that will best suit your pet. This may include an ear cleaner as well as a topical medication to use at home.
Recurrent and neglected cases may require surgery to help manage the problems so it is always wise to attend to ear problems as soon as they are noted. A really important aspect of maintaining healthy ears is keeping your dog's ears clean.
Animals that are prone to ear disease can really benefit from regular cleaning of their ears. This does not need to be performed any more frequently than every 48 hours. Your vet can advise you of the correct regime for your pet.
Sancerum is a cleaner that can be used to maintain healthy ears. It helps to break down the wax and debris that can develop in your pet's ears. It also has a drying agent which stops the ears from getting soggy - this helps to keep the numbers of bacteria and yeasts under control.


Other common ear problems in dogs

Grass seeds stuck in the ears
Grass seeds can be troublesome in the summer months. They can easily work their way down the ear canal and become trapped. They cause your pet considerable pain and discomfort as well as allowing bacteria and yeasts to invade. This then causes further pain and distress and the cycle continues.
Other factors include ear mites which are found in the external ear canal, especially in cats, and cause considerable irritation and itching. Tumours can block the canal allowing wax and debris to accumulate. Swimming dogs get dirty water in their ears which results in a bacteria rich moist environment.
Ear mites in dogs
Ear mites are common parasites that are highly contagious, often spreading from dog to dog. Excessive itching is the most common sign. Ear mites create dark, crumbly debris that look like coffee grinds.
Haematoma
A Haematoma of the ear flap means blood has accumulated in the ear flap (pinna) due to vigorous head shaking or trauma to the ear flap which causes the small blood vessels to leak. This may be due to an underlying inflammatory or itchy condition either related to the ear or elsewhere on the body. Fleas are always an important consideration in such cases.
Deafness in dogs
Deafness is usually brought on by age, trauma, loud noise or infection but can also be hereditary or congenital. Unfortunately, once diagnosed in your dog, clinical deafness is a lifelong condition.
Contact your vet

If you notice any of these signs then you should contact the practice to make an appointment with one of the vets. It is very important that a vet examines inside your pet's ears to check the canal thoroughly. Putting drops into the ears without them having been checked by a vet can cause further complications if for example the ear drum has ruptured or there is a foreign body present.