Ear Infections (The Case of the Shaking Head)
Is your dog shaking his head? He’s probably not just saying no. Is he scratching at his ears, rubbing his head on the carpet? These are all symptoms of otitis externa, or an ear infection. Otitis Externa is extremely common in our patients and knowing the symptoms is the first step towards identifying this disease.
Ear infections are extremely common, however, they are never normal. In other words, they do not just happen. There is always a predisposing factor or underlying cause which has created the conditions for an ear infection to take place. Knowing the conditions which create ear infections will help you understand how to avoid them from coming back. Humidity, moisture, excess debris in the ears, and even fleas are some of the predisposing factors for developing an ear infection.
There are many underlying causes of ear infections in pets. Allergies are an extremely common cause and often these patients will often lick their paws frequently. Allergies can be environmental, household or food based. In cases of food allergies, we suspect the protein source (chicken or beef) is the inciting cause and not a specific brand. A dietary trial with a new protein source (one your pet has never had) for 12 weeks can help identify if food is the inciting cause. While “grain-free” is quite popular among dog food manufacturers, most veterinarians do not believe grain is a source of allergies to pets.
Other underlying causes of ear infections in pets include hypothyroid disease in dogs and ear mites in kittens. Hypothyroid dogs are often overweight, lethargic, have poor skin coats, and may have a history of vomiting. Ear mites are often a cause of ear infections in kittens and often result in a “coffee ground” appearance to the debris inside your kitten’s ears. Ear mites are itchy and your kitten will likely shake his back leg when you rub his ears.
At World of Animals, we understand that ear cytologies (looking at a sample under a microscope), is an essential part of the diagnostic work-up for ear infections. While there are many underlying causes of ear infections, the result is an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria inside your pet’s ears. By identifying yeast, the shape of the bacteria present, mites, and if any cells are noted we can provide the most appropriate medication for treating your pet’s ear infection. You should never try to self-medicate your pet’s ears. In addition, an important part of the treatment process is to discuss the causes of ear infections so you can help prevent future infections from returning. Finally, our team will help demonstrate how to flush your pet’s ears and apply medication, so that treatment is most likely to be successful.
Treatment of ear infections is usually very successful and at home treatment with medications dispensed by your veterinarian often provide a cure. Rarely, resistant bacteria are present in our pet’s ears. When this happens, a culture and sensitivity test will not only name the bacteria’s species, but identify which antibiotics will be successful in eliminating it.
Untreated ear infections in pets leads to constant head shaking and scratching at your pet’s ears. If allowed to persist, an aural hematoma can form. This is when a blood vessel bursts in your dog’s ear and the exterior pinnae fills with blood. In addition, untreated ear infections can result in Otitis Interna, a more serious infection that ruptures your dog’s ear drum. For these reasons, seeking early treatment is both advised and imperative. Ear infections are painful, smelly, and no fun for you or your pet. Identifying the symptoms and seeking prompt treatment will improve your pet’s health, relieve discomfort, and help keep your pet’s tail wagging for years to come.
Jeffrey Stupine, V.M.D