By: Dr. Patrick Hafner, DVM
Ear problems in dogs are very common in our veterinary patients. Ear problems are less of an issue in cats. Canine ear problems are generally associated with 1) Parasites 2) Foreign bodies 3) Autoimmune diseases 4) Hormonal diseases 5) Allergies.
Ear diseases usually, present to us with red and inflamed ears with a waxy and smelly discharge. Dogs will rub their ears or shake their heads indicating some degree of discomfort. Ear mites are a cause of ear infections and are more common in feline patients than their canine counterparts. These critters are easy to treat. Secondary infections are also easy to remedy as well. Occasionally we find foreign bodies usually made of plant material that can create inflammation and infection. Autoimmune diseases are conditions where the body is using its own defenses on itself to create an inflammation associated with the ear. These are not that common however, they can be more difficult to treat. Hormonal diseases especially a low thyroid function can create a greasy condition known as seborrhea and this can set a patient up for infection of the ears. By far the most common cause of ear infections in the canine patient is an allergy. Also known as an atopic allergy or environmental allergy. We are in a subtropical climate here we have many patients who are allergically sensitized to mold, pollen, dust, grasses, trees and many more things in our environment. Less commonly our canine patients can have a food allergy that needs consideration. Allergic stimulation creates inflammation not only in the skin generally but also in the skin that lines the ear canal. Because the ear canal is dark, deep, moist and coated with wax bacteria and yeast love to take advantage of the ideal conditions in the ear canal for their growth. Excessive wax is produced naturally to combat inflammation created by allergic stimulation. This wax becomes the food for the organisms in the ear canal. When yeast and/or bacteria grow out of a natural balance, infection results. The ear canal becomes overrun by these organisms and a significant infection can take place.
Treatment begins by addressing the underlying cause. When the underlying cause is identified and addressed the treatment for the ear can be effectively begun. Cleaning of the ear is most important to remove the wax, infection and other debris created by the infection. An examination of the ear material under a microscope is commonly performed to identify the invading organism and develop a treatment plan accordingly. On some occasions, a culture and sensitivity are run if the identified organism on cytology will likely be more difficult to eradicate.
Sometimes we are able to see a wax plug that is deep in the canal and may be attached to the eardrum and impossible to remove with routine flushing of the ear canal. In this case, after the infection is brought under control we may want to use otoendoscopy under anesthesia to go deep into the ear canal to break this plug up and establish a clear view to the eardrum. Sometimes, the eardrum has a hole in it from long-standing inflammation and has no ability to heal without removing the inflammatory plug from that area. If a significant plug in the ear canal is not removed, this plug is the reason that many times infection returns down the road. After the infection is brought under control with proper control an at-home treatment plan is developed controlling any underlying allergy component and routine flushing on a regular basis may be recommended. Routine flushing reduces the wax build up in the ear canal and hence reduces the food supply upon which the yeast and bacteria are able to grow.
So, if you see the redness of the ear flap or canal, scratching of the head or ears or shaking of the head, or any smell coming from the ear canals, take a look at the ears closely. If a problem exists, then bring your furry family member in for evaluation.
Welcome Dr. Olson!
Dr. Olson is a Pinellas County native. She grew up in Indian Rocks Beach and Belleair Beach before she moved to Gainesville for college and vet school. She graduated from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 2015 and practiced in Gainesville for 4 years as her husband attended vet school. Dr. Olson brings a varied background of experience including general practice, emergency medicine, and integrative medicine. Dr. Olson is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist as well as a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. She started the integrative medicine department at BluePearl in Gainesville, FL to provide their patients with Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine as well as physical rehabilitation. Dr. Olson has a special interest in geriatric medicine and helping to improve the quality of life for pets in their golden years. She shares her home with her husband, their son, two dogs (Paris and Samantha) and two cats (Orange Julius and Boss).