This week I have seen a big uptick in my ear cases. We see dogs year round that have ear problems, ear infections, itchy ears, smelly ears, head shaking, but this week was different.
Ear infection doesn’t just happen. Yeast and bacteria don’t come out the dirt, jump in your dog’s ear and cause an infection. There has to be an underlying cause for ear problems. The common triggers are allergies (inhalant pollen or food), wet ears (swimming or bathing), hairy ears, underlying general skin problems (often hormonal like low thyroid), ear conformation ( floppy, or old scar tissue from previous ear infections), foreign bodies (like grass),and rarely parasites like ear mites or ticks. In my practice, it is usually allergies, hair ears, or swimming.
Allergies cause ear infection? Really? Most people either have some seasonal allergies to pollen or mold themselves or know someone who does. Humans experience sneezing, runny noses, itchy nose and eyes, and nasal congestion from the histamines released and can be partially blocked with antihistamines. Dogs also experience allergies to ragweed pollen and mold spores, but have different symptoms. Dogs have more mast cell receptors that release histamine on the skin of their feet, muzzle, ears, and elbow fold, than their membranes of nose and eyes. So when you see a dog frequently licking their feet, it isn’t a foot fetish, they are really itchy and trying to soothe that itch. Those ears when inflamed will make a lot more wax, and if you have a moist, waxy, hairy, folded ear you have the perfect conditions for the normal skin flora of yeast and bacteria ( usually staph) to thrive.
How do you know if your dog has an ear infection? Check Fluffy’s ears when you see head shaking, scratching at ears (or feet), and use all your senses. Look for redness and discharge. Smell for abnormal odors. Many of my clients say they can smell the yeast, because it smells like moldy bread. Listen for a wet squishy sound before you clean then. Feel the ears for warmth because an inflamed ear is often warmer than the other ear or the rest of the skin.
How do you treat ear problems at home? The biggest trick is to catch it early. Check those ears often, especially if Fido has risk factors or is itchy already. Frequent ear washing at home, during/after baths, and after swimming really helps. Using a pet ear cleaning is much better than tap water. They all contain a solution of water, mild acids, and alcohols to help “dry“ the ear when it evaporates. And they smell nicer than a nasty ear. Use ear washes frequently if Spot has ear problems.
What if cleaning isn’t enough? If home care doesn’t stop the head shaking, redness, and tenderness, it is time to come see the vet. We will gently examine the ears, collect samples to look for infection, and prescribe medicine. Occasionally, we will even prescribe pain medicine, because some dogs are truly painful and miserable with ear infections.
How do I prevent the next infection? It is all about managing those causes of ear problems: allergies with antihistamines or stronger prescription medicine like Apoquel, plucking hairy ears, washing weekly at least in allergy season, washing after swimming, and managing underlying skin diseases.
Ear infections can be prevented, treated, and managed. We can help.
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