The most common ear disease in dogs is otitis externa – an inflammation of the external auditory canal. Colloquially one speaks of ear compulsion. The disease is always associated with pain. Signs of otitis externa include a foul odor from the ear, constant shaking of the head, and severe scratching of the ear.
How does an ear infection develop in dogs?
Causes of an inflammation of the outer ear can be, for example, parasites, mostly mites, allergies, and foreign bodies in the outer auditory canal. Ear mites are rarer in dogs but increase in puppyhood. Mites cause an allergic reaction in the ear, even a few mites can trigger inflammation. In addition to the actual causes, there are also breed-typical and anatomical peculiarities that favor an ear disease.
Characteristics typical of the breed favor ear diseases in dogs
Such breed-typical characteristics include, for example, a lot of hair in the ear. For example, Poodles, Wire-Haired Terriers, and Schnauzers are affected. Dogs with an ear position that promotes the accumulation of earwax are also more likely to suffer from ear infections. These include hunting dogs, Bassets, and Terriers. There are also anatomical conditions in German Shepherds, Terriers, Newfoundlands, Munsterlanders, Mountain Dogs, or St. Bernards that promote ear problems. The Cocker Spaniel combines many of these characteristics and is therefore the most frequently affected by ear diseases. Excessive or incorrect ear care with cotton swabs also promotes an ear infection.
Maintaining factors aggravate the course of inflammation. Once the natural immune defense of an inflamed ear is disturbed, bacteria, fungi, or yeasts, which are part of the ear’s normal inhabitants, can multiply unchecked. The ear reacts to this with increased excretion of earwax, which leads to an unpleasant odor due to bacterial decomposition. Furthermore, there can be a proliferation of the inner skin of the ear, which can ultimately lead to the complete closure of the ear opening. Now pus and earwax press on the eardrum, in the worst case it ruptures. This clears the way and the inflammation can spread to the middle and inner ear. Once the inner ear is affected, this leads to serious illnesses with fever and balance disorders.
Treat ear diseases early
The treatment of an ear infection is necessary so that it does not lead to far-reaching diseases in the dog. The motto is: the sooner, the better. In the acute initial stage, treatment is also much simpler and more promising. If the inflammation is not noticed or not treated consistently enough, it can persist for years and become chronic. The treatment of a chronic ear infection is lengthy, often difficult, and sometimes only possible under anesthesia. Sometimes only surgery to expose the entire external ear canal can bring relief to the dog.
There are a variety of treatment options available to veterinarians. At the beginning of therapy, careful and thorough cleaning of the ear canal is important. Ear canal irrigation removes inflammatory secretions and earwax. They thus deprive the pathogens (bacteria, fungi, yeasts, etc.) of the breeding ground. The loosened deposits can be removed with cotton swabs (never with cotton swabs!). An ear ointment containing an antibiotic and an antifungal agent is then applied. A proportion of cortisone relieves itching and pain and causes the inflammatory symptoms to subside. If mites are present, the vet will choose a drug that also contains an acaricide. In the case of severe, purulent inflammation, systemic treatment with antibiotics may also be necessary.
The dog owner can continue the treatment with rinsing solutions and ear ointments at home. However, the treatment should never be stopped without a final examination by the veterinarian. If the treatment is stopped too early, bacteria and mites can survive, multiply again and after a short time cause inflammation in the ear again. Dog owners should regularly monitor their animals’ ears and consult a veterinarian if they suspect an ear disease.