The ear is a vulnerable part of a dogs body. The outer ear flap is easily damaged, while the ear canal encourages the accumulation of wax, debris, and water, and provides an access point for a variety of infections.
- Dogs with ear problems may show any of the following clinical signs:
- Head and ear shaking;
- Scratching one or both ears;
- Unpleasant odour from ears;
- Yellow or brown ear discharge;
- Inflammation to the ear flap or opening of ear canal;
- Yelping or other indication of pain when touched around the ears;
- Head tilted to one side;
- Apparent loss of hearing.
Outer ear problems
Many cases of ear inflammation, or otitis, are caused by white, pinhead-sized mites, Otodectes cyanotis. They can be killed by treatment with an effective product for at least three weeks. All pets that have been in contact with the affected dog should be treated too: these mites spread easily. Some reside outside the ears, providing a ready source for infestation. Infection of the external ear is often caused by a yeast, Malassezia pachydermatis, which takes advantage of the damage inflicted by mite infestations, allergies, or other ear canal inflammations. Untreated external ear infection may lead to a ruptured eardrum and middle or inner ear infection with associated head tilt and loss of balance. Your vet will prescribe a suitable ear medicine: for example, if the ear drum is ruptured, certain drugs, such as the antibiotics gentamycin and neomycin, might not be used because they may cause nerve deafness.
Certain breeds, including Labrador and Golden Retrievers, seem predisposed to haematomas – hot, soft, fluctuating swellings to the ear flap. These occur when a blood vessel breaks and blood accumulates between the skin and the cartilage of the ear. A vet will drain and stitch the haematoma to prevent the ear from refilling with blood, and corticosteroids may also be used. The tips of the ears, especially those with little hair cover, are at risk from frostbite. If your dog has been exposed to prolonged cold, pad the ears with lukewarm water. Do not rub them: it will only make them itch more. In hot weather, ears can be affected by sunburn, especially in breeds with white coats. Apply sunblock with a protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more before letting your dog out in direct sunshine for prolonged periods.
Balance and deafness
Middle or inner ear problems may lead to loss of balance, especially in older dogs. Signs include head tilt, a ticking movement of the eyes, loss of coordination and appetite, and vomiting. This suite of symptoms – known as canine vestibular syndrome – can sometimes be mistaken for a stroke. Its exact cause is not known, and it can often diminish within a week, and disappear entirely within a month of first appearance of the symptoms, although there may be some residual head tilt. Symptomatic treatment is given to control the dogs
nausea and prevent accidental injuries.
Temporary deafness can be caused by excess production of ear wax or by seborrhoea, a condition that also affects the skin. These problems are easily treated with appropriate medication from your vet. Impaired hearing and eventual deafness can develop insidiously in older dogs, and may be hereditary in some breeds. For an accurate diagnosis, a specialist vet is able to carry out a brain stem auditory evoked response (BAER) test. Handling a deaf dog can be demanding. However, with patience, good food rewards, and simple but flamboyant hand signals, an affected dog can be obedience trained. Keep a dog with hearing difficulties on its leash at all times.