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March 14th, 2014

Otitis Externa
(aka that stinky ear!)

Your dog is shaking his/her head, scratching at his ear, and when you flip the ear open itís red, angry looking and full of smelly debris.

The canine and feline ear has two parts to the ear canal, the outer part going straight down (vertical) and then it turns 90 degrees and continues horizontally. At the end of the canal is the tympanic membrane (ear drum) and beyond this is the middle and inner ear.

Ear infections can be caused by moisture trapping down the canal which is why dogs with floppy ears are more susceptible to infection. Just as common is an underlying allergy (which can be very mild with ear infections as the only sign, or so severe that the animal exhibits other signs of allergies). If there are underlying allergies then the skin of the ear canal is more easily irritated and inflamed. An irritated ear responds by producing more waxy (ceruminous) material, trapping moisture, and giving normal bacteria and yeast a chance to flourish resulting in an ear infection.

Dealing with ear infections

1. Your veterinarian will likely take a swab of the discharge to examine it under the microscope. This will allow them to determine if the infection is predominantly yeast, bacteria, or a mix and what type of organisms are involved. This enables us to tailor the medications we select to treat.

2. Cleaning the ear Ė Keeping the ear clear of debris allows the ear to dry properly and medication to get down the canal. During treatment you may need to clean the ear daily or every second day.

3. Recheck exams Ė Your veterinarian will request a reassessment of the ear at the end of treatment. This is a very important step since at home you are only able to assess about one third of the ear canal. A complete otoscopic exam needs to be done to ensure the entire ear is clear. If a small amount of infection resides, the ear can flare up again.

4. Medication Ė the most common medication is topical ointment you put down the ear canal. Sometimes if the infection is severe or certain bacteria types are seen on cytology, an oral antibiotic can be used as well. Sometimes the ear is so red and swollen that we canít get an otoscope cone in and medication canít get down the ear canal and do its job. In these cases an oral anti-inflammatory may be prescribed to reduce ear canal swelling.

Once the infection is resolved, maintenance cleaning of the ear about once a week should help reduce the chances of frequent bouts of infection. If allergies are strongly suspected, the diagnosis and treatment of allergies may be recommended to keep the allergies under control (but that is another topic in itself!)

Dr. ML Gaynor

Check out this video:
How to Clean Your Petís Ears