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Ear infections are very common in dogs. Two types are most often seen, otitis externa, infection of the external ear canal, and otitis media, infection of the middle ear. Although any dog can get an ear infection, some breeds appear to be more prone than others. Dogs with pendulous ears, like Cocker Spaniels and Basset Hounds, or dogs with hairy inner ear flaps, like Miniature Poodles and Schnauzers, tend to have a higher occurrence of ear infections.
Most ear infections are easily and successfully treated. But if left untreated, they could result in serious damage.
Bacteria or yeast are most often the culprits of otitis externa. Other causes include an accumulation of wax, thick, or matted hair in the ear canal, debris, a foreign body, a tumor or impaired drainage of the ear. Sometimes, infections of the external ear canal are a secondary result of some other bodily infection or ear mite infestation.
Otitis media usually results from the spread of infection from the external ear canal to the middle ear. Also, foreign bodies, debris, ulceration or improper ear cleaning can rupture the eardrum and allow infection to reach the middle ear.
Ear infections are very uncomfortable for your dog. Your dog will show his discomfort by shaking his head or scratching at his ears. Often, the ears will become red and inflamed with an offensive odor and perhaps a black or yellowish discharge. If your dog tilts his head constantly, it could be a sign of a middle ear infection.
Because many different culprits can be the cause of your dog's ear infection, it is important to have your dog examined by a veterinarian, who can then determine the proper medication or treatment. Your veterinarian will also make sure the eardrum is intact, as some medications can result in hearing loss if administered to a dog with a ruptured eardrum.
Your veterinarian will use an otoscope--an instrument that provides light and magnification--to view the ear canal. He will determine whether or not the eardrum is intact and if any foreign material is present. If this is very painful to the dog, sedation or anesthesia may be necessary to complete the exam.
Your veterinarian will take a sample of the material in the canal and examine it under a microscope. This is called cytology, and allows the vet to determine the organism causing the infection. If more than one organism are culprits, multiple medications or a broad-spectrum medication is necessary.
If your veterinarian finds a foreign body, a tick, or a very heavy buildup of debris, sedation will likely be required to remove the irritant or to allow a thorough cleansing.
A middle ear infection can be more difficult to clear up. Diagnosis and treatment may include lab tests, X-rays and even surgery. Four to six weeks may pass before the infection disappears, and often during this time you will be told to restrict the activity of your dog.
For both types of infection, you should keep water from entering your dog's ears. Follow-up visits to your veterinarian are very important to make sure treatment is working and the infection has disappeared.
Remember, the longer infection is present, the harder it is to get rid of it. If an ear infection goes untreated, your dog will continue to be in pain. Your dog's head shaking and scratching can cause further problems, such as broken blood vessels that require surgery to correct. Chronic infections can harm the eardrum and close the ear canal. Surgical reconstruction of the ear canal may then become necessary.
Treatment prescribed by the vet usually includes administering medication to and cleaning the ears daily for one to two weeks. Remember, your dog's ears are painful, and your dog might not appreciate what you are about to do, so use caution. Ask your veterinarian for a demonstration on how to treat the ears properly.
Most often, with proper diagnosis and treatment, your dog's ear infection will be cured. However, if ear infections are chronic or recurrent, an underlying problem, such as allergies or thyroid disease, may be the cause.
Dog owners can help their dogs avoid ear infections by practicing preventative care at home. This is especially important for those animals that have pendulous ears, have lots of hair in their ears, or have allergies or other medical problems that make them prone to ear infections. A weekly ear cleaning with a veterinarian-recommended ear cleansing solution can minimize or prevent infections. Such a cleaning provides other benefits, as well.
Weekly ear cleanings get the dog owner to really see the ear on a routine basis, allowing him or her to notice any early warning signs of infection.
In addition to ear cleanings, dogs with lots of hair on the inside ear flap should have those hairs plucked periodically by their groomer or veterinarian. Left untreated you dog can develop an ear hematoma as well.
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