Pet Points: Several strategies available for dog with ear infection

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This is the time of year when many people, including myself, are sneezing in reaction to pollens and other inhaled allergens. Dogs can react by face rubbing and feet licking.

The most common problem in dogs is ear infections. The most common one veterinarians see is otitis externa, similar to human swimmer's ear. Pet owners may see their dog scratching at the ear or head shaking. They also may notice odor from the ear or an inflamed inner ear flap.

Many ear problems are treated with a topical antibiotic, yeast medication and a steroid ointment. The pet often will be back to normal in a week. However, routine, recurrent or severe infections can require microscopic examination for either bacteria or yeast that can inhabit the ear canal.

Commercial ear cleaning solutions can be used to keep ears clean, dry and wax-free. If the infection looks or smells as if it may be a difficult one, we will culture the ear to see what antibiotic would be most appropriate. Cultures sent to a laboratory can be expensive but may save time and discomfort by finding the best antibiotic to use quickly.

When we see a severe infection, sedation may be necessary to properly clean the long and curved ear canal of the dog. Using either a standard otoscope or a video otoscope, we can clean, flush and examine a sore and painful ear canal properly.

With sedation, we can determine if the eardrum is intact. Once the eardrum is perforated, we are dealing with an infection of the middle ear. A ruptured eardrum can heal, but some dogs will have changes to the middle and inner ear that might require surgery to open and drain the structure know as the bulla. Extreme cases result in removal of the ear canal cartilage and skin. Total ear canal ablation often is referred to a specialist, and although drastic, it can cure a chronic and severe ear infection.

Dogs with chronic ear disease might benefit from a work-up for allergies. If a food allergy is suspected, a hypo-allergenic diet can be tried. Veterinarians might do blood or skin testing to identify the offending allergen. Some dogs with chronic skin and ear inflammation may need allergy hyposensitization (allergy injections).

Treatment with drugs such as antihistamines are useful for mild inflammation. Steroids or tranquilizers might be necessary to stop dogs from scratching at an already infected ear. An additional drug we have been using for years is cyclosporin, which decreases the skin reaction to an allergen. Cyclosporin. marketed as Atopica for dogs, may be used as an alternative to steroids like prednisone.

Cocker spaniels and poodles, which have lots of deep hair in the ear canal, are some of the breeds prone to ear infections. However, any dog can get an ear infection. Owners should always be alert and seek treatment before a simple ear infection becomes a major medical event.


Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, email Include your name and municipality or neighborhood.


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