By Dr. Roger Krogstad, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
“Otitis” may be an unfamiliar word to you, but to a physician or veterinarian it means an ear infection. The anatomy of the dog and cat ear lends itself to the accumulation of debris or retention of water due to a deep “L”-shaped ear canal.
The pet ear is also highly susceptible to the seasonal allergies that would cause humans runny eyes and watery noses. In pets the histamines released in response to the pollens, dusts, molds, and mildews can target the ear to create itch and inflammation that can progress to yeast or bacterial ear infections.
Summer tends to be the prime time for urgently scheduled painful ear examinations. Many have already progressed to a bacterial infection that may prove a challenge to treat successfully. Ear bacterial cultures and antibiotic sensitivity testing are often indicated so the most effective antibiotic can be selected.
For many pets ear problems are a recurrent seasonal condition because the allergies are “built in” to them. For these pets your veterinarian can prescribe a seasonal prevention program that may contain both oral and topical medications. The effect of the allergens on the ears can therefore be minimized.
Severe ear infections of long duration may cause damage to the deeper ear structure and affect the pet’s ability to hear. The eardrum may rupture, and the deeper middle ear infection may progress to a deep, life-threatening infection. From the deep inner ear there is direct nerve access potential for meningitis or balance compromise.
With repeat infections the lining tissue of the ear canal may permanently swell and calcify, preventing further medication efforts. These pets may need to be referred to a specialist for life-saving total ear ablation surgery or the less invasive lateral ear resection surgery.
At a higher risk for ear issues will be dogs who love the water and certain genetically susceptible breeds. The water dogs such as labs, goldens, and spaniels can retain water from swimming in their vertical ear canal. This creates the perfect incubation environment. The warm ear canal, moisture, and dead skin lining the canal form the ideal condition for yeast and bacterial growth. For these dogs a veterinarian may recommend an ear flushing solution to dry and acidify the ear canal following swimming to prevent infections.
The genetics of the cocker spaniel breed predisposes it to a lifetime of ear health management. They are all hereditary victims of ceruminous otitis — waxy ears — and eventually yeast overgrowth. Discuss with your veterinarian a long-range plan for a new cocker spaniel puppy.
The presentation of ear disease can range from subtle to very obvious. Foul odor, drainage, pain or itch, redness, or just increased wax production may be indicators. A broken blood vessel in the ear flap, which would look and feel like a large bubble under the skin, is an immediate concern to address in the early stage before the entire flap is involved. Many times this is the result of head shaking or scratching of the ears. Your veterinarian will discuss treatment options, which may include surgery.
Ear disease is one of the more common medical conditions seen in summer, and for many management and prevention may be a lifelong project.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.