HOW COMMON ARE EAR INFECTIONS IS DOGS?
Infections of the outer ear is one of the most common types of infections seen in dogs. It is called otitis externa. Some breeds, particularly those with large or hairy ears like Cocker Spaniels, Springer Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, and Labrador Retrievers, are more prone to ear infections, but they can occur in any breed.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF AN EAR INFECTION?
Ear infections are quite uncomfortable. Many dogs will shake their head and scratch their ears to get the debris and fluid out. Some will rub their ears on carpet and furniture. The ears often become red and inflamed and develop an odor. A black or yellowish discharge commonly occurs.
DON’T THESE SYMPTOMS USUALLY SUGGEST EAR MITES?
Ear mites can cause several of these symptoms, including a black discharge, scratching, and head shaking. However, ear mite infections occur most commonly in cats. Adult dogs may contract ear mites from infected animals by direct contact. Ear mites will create an environment within the ear canal that leads to a secondary bacterial and yeast (fungus) infection.
SINCE THESE SYMPTOMS ARE SIMILAR AND USUALLY MEAN AN INFECTION, CAN’T I JUST GET SOME EAR MEDICATION?
There are several kinds of bacteria and yeast that commonly cause ear infections. Without knowing the kind of infection present, we do not know which medication to use. In some cases, a foreign body or tumor in the ear canal may cause the ear infection. Treatment with medication alone will not resolve these problems. It is important that your dog be examined to ensure that the eardrum is intact. Administration of certain medications can result in loss of hearing if the eardrum is ruptured. This can only be detected by a thorough ear examination by your veterinarian.
HOW ARE EAR INFECTIONS TREATED?
The result of the otoscopic and microscopic examination usually determines the diagnosis and course of treatment. Cytologic study of debris from the ear canal determines which drug to use. Many dogs will have more than one type of pathogen present (i.e. a bacteria and a yeast, or two types of bacteria), which requires the use of multiple medications or a broad-spectrum medication.
An important part of the evaluation of the patient is the identification of underlying disease. Many dogs with chronic or recurrent ear infections have allergies, food allergies or low thyroid function. If underlying disease is suspected, it must be diagnosed and treated or the pet will continue to experience chronic ear problems.
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO TREAT AN EAR INFECTION?
Dogs with ear infections can be quite miserable. Ear infections can be a source of constant pain resulting in head shaking and scratching. Head shaking and scratching can also cause broken blood vessels in the earflap called an ear hematoma, which requires surgery. Chronic ear infections can penetrate the eardrum and result in an internal ear infection and permanent hearing loss.