Get that itchy ear problem under control as soon as possible – our Inverness-based veterinarian discusses ear infections in dogs

Ear infections in dogs can be caused by a number of factors.

Dougal was a West Highland Terrier who was opposed to having his ears checked and treated.

Unfortunately, he was brought in with painful, inflamed ears, a problem that recurs for him.

Ear infections in dogs are commonly caused by a number of factors including bacteria, yeast and ear mites. Excess hair, moisture, debris, wax buildup, foreign objects, and allergens can also cause problems. Unlike the human ear canal, the canine ear canal is mostly vertical with a shorter horizontal canal and an awkward “bend” between the two. Therefore, dirt and moisture can be retained more easily.

If your dog shows sudden signs of ear pain, redness or inflammation of the ear canal or swelling of the ear flap, odor or discharge, persistent head shaking or scratching, hanging ear and head tilting, contact your veterinarian. There could be a painful infection or a foreign object.

Upon examining Dougal I could see that he had inflamed ears with some excess wax showing. He also showed signs of excessive licking on his paws as he already had brownish saliva stains on all four feet. Further testing and swabs revealed a yeast, Malassezia, infection and an underlying skin problem called atopic dermatitis. Malassezia yeasts are generally found in low numbers in the ear canals and on the skin as normal commensal skin yeasts. Due to his underlying dermatitis, Dougal was found to be particularly sensitive to the yeasts and required ongoing treatments to ensure his general skin and ears remained comfortable and clean at all times.

Recurring ear infections are a common problem in dogs with atopic dermatitis. Dougal was prescribed an anti-itch treatment and a long-acting ear product was applied to both ears to initially control his yeast infection. Regular ongoing cleaning, shampooing, and foot baths with an anti-yeast ear cleaner and shampoo were recommended.

Daily ear cleaning would be required if his ears and skin are to remain comfortable.

Get your dog used to ear checking and cleaning early on by gently holding their ears and massaging the ear flaps, and watch their ears while they play. Afterwards, reward them with a special treat to associate the cleanse with something positive.

Use a gentle ear cleaning product and cotton balls or pads, and have some old towels handy. Wrap a towel around your dog and place one under him to keep him stable. First, check both ears for tangles and excess woolly hair in the ear canal or around its base. If your dog has a thick coat or a lot of “wool” coming out of the ear canal or at the base of the ear canal, this may need careful grooming. Do this very carefully and little by little, and then check to see if there is any excess wax build up.

Moisten a cotton ball or pad with ear cleaner and first gently wipe the outer part of the ear canal, the inner lining of the pinna and the area under the ear. Then apply a few drops of the ear cleaner to the inside of the ear canal. Then gently massage the drops into the ear canal and wipe the outer ear canal clean. Use a separate cotton pad for each.

Preventive care is always best, which is why regular inspection and cleaning is so important.

• Alison Laurie-Chalmers is Senior Consultant at Crown Vets in Inverness.

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