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Ear Problems In Dogs

Ron Hines DVM PhD 2/9/

One of the most common problems that bring pets to a veterinarian are ear infections. All begin suddenly, but by the time they get to me they are usually chronic condition. All ear problems have an underlying cause, which must be determined. Simply treating the ear for inflammation and infection guarantees that the problem will reoccur.

1) Ear mites are the most common cause of itchy and infected ears in young puppies, kittens and ferrets.

Youngsters obtain these pinhead sized cream-white, spider-like parasites from their parents as the nestle with them and nurse. During the first two month of life, the ears rarely appear dirty and there is no signs that the mites are present. However, by the third or fourth month a brownish “coffee grounds” material begins to appear within the ear. These youngsters rarely have itchy ears yet.

If these mites are discovered early, a few drops of permethrin-containing liquid or even baby or mineral oil placed in each ear and massaged downward will cure the problem. If the problem is left untreated, the delicate skin lining the ear canals thickens and chronic changes occur that sometimes persist throughout the life of the pet.

These ears are best over treated when they are discovered to try to return the ear canal lining to its normal condition. After a product is used to kill the mites, a bland antibiotic and steroid- containing ointment should be used daily for several weeks. I can provide you with suitable medicines over the Internet.

Cleaning of the ear canal is best left to a professional and may not be necessary if proper medicines are used. You should just clean the outer portion of the canal that you can see with a Q-tip.

2) Dogs with floppy ears are naturally predisposed to ear problems because of poor circulation within the ear canals, buildup of humidity and the tendency for many floppy-eared dogs to have hair growing within the ear canals. These breeds include spaniels, springers, Labrador and golden retrievers. Retained water in the ears after swimming – especially in swimming pools is an added cause.

Plucking this hair from within the ears with your thumb and forefinger can help. So will trimming the hair on the underside of the earflap and surrounding the ear. Several liquid ear-cleaning products are on the market containing boric and salicylic acids, eucalyptol, and propylene glycol. They generally come in 8 or 16-ounce containers. About 10 drops should be placed and massaged into the ear canal after these dogs swim or on a weekly basis in floppy-eared dogs prone to ear problems.

Some of these cases are compounded by skin or food allergies or the presence of fleas anywhere on the dog. In chronic cases, periodic ear medications containing steroid and antibiotics may be necessary. It is best to alter the formula (Brand) of ear ointment or drops used every few months to prevent bacteria present from becoming immune to a particular product.

3) Skin allergies in pets often extend into the ear canals. These cases are treated similarly to floppy-eared problems. When a dog’s skin itches, its ears also itch. So the cause of generalized itchiness needs to be found and treated. This might include strict flea control, limiting the pet’s access to damp moldy areas, discontinuing brands of skin-care, perfume, household cleaning agents and dietary management.

4) Excessive coarse hair in the ears of certain breeds, particularly poodles, predisposes them to ear problems. Frequent plucking of this hair is important. Any residual inflammation of the ear is treated in the ways previously mentioned.

5) Sometimes, despite proper treatment, ear problems continue and eventually result in a narrowed ear canal with populations of antibiotic- resistant bacteria and yeast. These ears can usually be managed for the pet’s entire life without surgery. In some cases such as uncooperative pets or severe recurrent infections, surgical re-direction of the ear canal downwards solves the problem. If the eardrum has already been lost and infection has spread to the middle or inner ears, total ablation (closure) of the ear is preferable. These pets then go on to lead happy lives even though their hearing is diminished.