Skin inside the ear is just an extension of normal skin. Many dogs that have issues with skin (see article on atopy) can often suffer from ear problems. The ear canal in dogs has different anatomical features from the human ear. It is made of a horizontal and vertical ear canal. The pinna (ear flap) can also occlude the opening of the ear contributing even further to complications.
What causes ear infections?
There are many culprits such as allergy/atopy, ear mites, and foreign bodies, excessive production of keratin in the ear canal, tumours and polyps. Other factors that may contribute to the problem are if the ear canal is too narrow (Shar Pei), overproduction of wax (Cocker Spaniel), floppy and hairy ears, lots of swimming (Labradors), genetic factors, reaction to medication and systemic disorder such as hypothyroidism. Some breeds are more predisposed to this problem such as Poodles, Retrievers, Spaniels and Shar Pei.
What are the symptoms?
Redness of ears, pain, head tilt, smelly discharge, unusual behaviour, scratching ears are often noticed. Head shaking, narrow ear canal, dry skin on in the ear canal and difficulties walking (ataxia) can also be noticed.
Treatment can be easy
Therapy depends on the cause of the problem. Ear mites are easily treated by using topical ear drops or Advocate on the top of the neck. Foreign bodies have to be removed and in some cases the dog needs heavy sedation to keep them still since often they are sore. Any unexpected movement can result in eardrum damage and more complications so keeping the dog still is a must.
If there is over production of wax or too much hair the solution is regular ear cleaning at home and plucking ears respectively.
Allergy and Atopy are the most common reasons for ear problems. It is crucial to do an ear swab and define the cause of the problem. Yeast, bacteria or very nasty Pseudomonas infection all have different treatment. Sometimes your vet will do a culture test in which a sample is taken from your dog’s ear and sent off to pathology. The organism is isolated in pure culture then discs with antibiotics are placed on the culture to determine which antibiotic works best. Depending on the cause the treatment could be topical (drops) or systemic (tablets, injections). Topical products work best and they are cheap and effective. Most pets need a combination of antifungal/antibacterial drugs with cortisone to suppress the allergy.
Ear cleaning at home is also an important part of the treatment and it makes it easier for the product to work.
Tumours and polyps are treated surgically.
Complications are possible
If there is chronic infection the problems can vary from aural haematoma (rupture of blood vessel in ear flap) to narrowing of the ear canal and both need surgery. Some dogs may develop mid ear infection in which case the treatment gets even more complicated. Skin problems should be treated at the same time since often they are part of the problem.
Ear problems tend to be a long term issue. Most of the treatment can be done at home and involves regular ear flushing with ear cleaners, medicated drops or systemic treatment (tablets) to keep the problem under control. Stubborn cases may need additional tests such as allergy testing, or blood testing to determine if an underlying problem is present (hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease).