Dog Ear Otitis Externa

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By Tess Thompson

Otitis Externa is a medical term for a chronic or recurrent ear infection of the external ear and the ear canal. It is the result of a vicious cycle of cause and effect. Poor grooming and unclean ears often act as an invitation for bacterial and fungal infections. Treatment is difficult as the anatomy of the dog ear does not allow the medication to reach the inner ear easily. Infection causes the skin lining of the external ear to thicken, which further inhibits exit of infectious fluid and entry of medications for treating the infection.

Dog ear infections are common but mild occurrences tend to aggravate. When the dog scratches his ears due to itching, further complications like blood clots and hematoma are likely to occur. The external ear skin thickens and becomes reddened and scaly. With the passage of time, a discolored secretion starts creating an unbearable foul odor.

As the condition worsens, the ear assumes a cauliflower-like appearance, eventually leading to the blockage of the ear passage. Once the infection reaches the middle ear, otitis externa becomes more painful and brings about behavioral changes in the dog. The dog is likely to become less responsive and will shy away from opening his mouth or being petted on the head.

While treating otitis externa, it is more important to establish the reason for the infection. Bacterial and fungal infections have underlying conditions for them to prevail. Your veterinarian may look for one or more of these predisposing causes.

The underlying cause of otitis externa in young dogs and cats is the prevalence of ear mites . Although less prevalent, cat ear mites are equally painful and itchy when they occur. Ear mites are small external parasites that cause intense itching and a thick brown wax like discharge. Other causes may include the following:

  1. Long floppy ears or a small ear canal that does not allow free circulation of air
  2. A genetic susceptibility
  3. Weak thyroid
  4. Hormonal problems
  5. Skin disorders

Treating otitis externa in dogs in a complete manner includes treatment of the underlying cause of bacteria or yeast. Infections caused by bacteria, yeast or dog ear mites are usually treated medically. Where medications do not bring about the desired results, the veterinarian may suggest tests to rule out thyroid malfunction or a systemic illness.

Surgery is recommended when the problem is caused by a tumor, narrowing of the ear canal or a blockage due to thickening of the skin lining the external ear. Severe instances of otitis externa lead to calcification of the ear canal cartilage. Total or partial ear ablation (surgical removal) is the only treatment in such cases.

The typical L-shaped anatomy of the dog ear is mostly responsible for the aggravation of an otherwise mild ailment. Home remedies for dog ear mites and regular cleaning of ears are simple procedures that pet owners can follow regularly to avoid what can be an extremely painful condition for a dog.


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