Sore Ears

Ear infections and ear inflammations are a common, painful condition in dogs especially during the hot humid seasons.

The most common cause is atopy, which is an allergy to pollen of plants. The pet absorbs pollen through their skin and it results in inflammation sometimes only of the skin lining the ear canals and other times it also affects the skin of the body ( particularly the feet and face ).

Less common causes of ear inflammations and infections include foreign bodies (grass seeds), mites, food allergies, hypothyroidism , Cushing’s disease and rarely cancers.

Other factors that predispose some dogs to ear infections including long floppy ears, hairy ear canals , narrow ear canals , high humidity , and wet ears from swimming. When you have an inflamed moist ear canal you have the perfect conditions that allow bacteria and yeast to grow. Treatment involves not only getting rid of the secondary infection but also resolving the inflammation otherwise the infection will recur.

Diagnosis Requires:
+ A clinical examination to check for other skin disease or clues as to why the ear inflammation has occurred
+ Ear cytology to determine the type of bacteria, yeasts or mites present
+ Otoscopic examination to evaluate the skin lining the ear canal, look for foreign bodies, polyps, etc. and also to assess the integrity of the ear drum as some ear cleaners and medications are toxic to the inner ear.

Treatment :
Most cases respond well to topical ear drops some pets also need oral anti-inflammatories to help reduce swelling and open up the ear canals. Some dogs will require an anaesthetic to properly clean out the canal and/or check for underlying causes.
Cytology is essential to not only diagnose the type of bacteria or yeast present but also to assess response to treatment. Cytology should be performed every 2- 3 weeks and medication should be continued for at least 5 days after the infection has resolved. Chronic cases may require 4- 6 weeks of treatment. It is essential cytology is repeated before the drops are stopped as the ears will look and smell better and become comfortable long before the infection is cleared.

The common causes for recurrence are not using a large enough volume of drops, not using the drops for long enough and not clearing the underlying inflammation.
In severe chronic cases surgery (total ablation, bulla osteotomy) is the only way to resolve the infection.

Prevention -Minimize recurrences by:
+ Addressing underlying cause – the atopy, food allergy, hypothyroidism etc.
+ Clean once a week to once a fortnight
+ Avoid ear plucking if there is no ear problem as it causes inflammation of the skin and can make ear infection more likely.