General considerations

By now, it must be clear how susceptible to infection ears are. Some dogs seem to be more vulnerable to ear infections than others. German Shepherds and Poodles top the list.

pet cornerWell, since – as we have said before – the basic problem has to do with air circulation (or lack thereof), then it stands to reason that dogs with droopy ear flaps would be more prone to ear problems. In fact, statistics have shown that 80 per cent of the cases of ear infection confront dogs with hanging ears, for example, Poodles, Basset Hounds, Bloodhounds, etc.. The theory is that erect ears allow air to circulate well in the external ear canals, and therefore allow for a better drying out of the canals and provide less favourable conditions for bacteria to proliferate. That’s the theory. Here in Guyana, we do not have many of the above-mentioned breeds; and despite the supposed statistics, here in a country close to the equator and below sea-level (where most of the dogs reside) and with extremely high humidity levels, dogs like the German Shepherds (notwithstanding their upright ears) suffer greatly from ear infections.

How do we know if the pet has an ear infection?

The ears are sensitive! One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to appreciate that fact. So, even if there is a little bacterial invasion (infection), there will be a great response. This reaction takes the form of:

  1. i)         Scratching the ears with the hind legs. Rubbing the ears or slapping the ears on any surface.
  2. ii)     Purulent (pussy), foul smelling discharge from the ear canal. This is sometimes associated with the pasting up of the hair around the ear.

iii)   Shaking the head vigorously (sometimes to the point of bursting blood vessels in the ear flap, thus causing the entire flap to swell).

  1. iv)   Redness, especially visible around the entrance to the ear canal.
  2. v)   Pain (tenderness of the tissue) which causes the animal to often hold the painful side of the head downwards.
  3. vi)     Thickening of the tissue surrounding the entrance to the ear, and sometimes of the entire ear flap.

Most of the symptoms mentioned above can be discerned quite easily. However, to see into the ear canal, one needs a special instrument called the otoscope. I do not advise you to go poking around in the inside of a painful ear. Let the professional handle this problem, especially if a foreign body (like a grass seed) is embedded in the external ear canal. Very often, the original cause of the infection has long been expelled, but the ulceration and erosion of tissue left behind can be quite extensive and painful, and can be an excellent environment for germs to multiply. Tiny ear mites running around and feeding in the ear canal can also produce great discomfort and some of the symptoms mentioned above.

At this stage, veterinary intervention is necessary in order to relieve the pain and discomfort. Please note that any dog in pain is unpredictable. It might even snap at its owner who wishes to take a peek at what’s going on under the ear flap. The vet may have to give the dog a sedative (tranquiliser) or he/she may have to administer a local or total anaesthetic.

If the infection is fresh, the vet may be able to institute a cure pretty easily in most (not all) occasions. Often, the vet would prescribe antibiotics, anti-inflammatory tablets and painkillers. On occasion, the vet might wish to take a sample of the content of the ear, so that the laboratory can perform a sensitivity test. Through this method, the bacteria causing the problem can be identified and the appropriate and specific medication released on the germs. I myself tend always to douche (wash out) the ear (under general anaesthesia, of course), with special detergents and hydrogen peroxide, before applying antibiotics and/or antifungals – whether in the form of drops or ointment or capsules.

Next week, we’ll begin with the specific ailments of the ear, for example, fungal infections, parasitic invasions, allergies and so on.

Please implement disease preventative measures (vaccinations, routine dewormings, monthly anti-Heartworm medication, etc) and adopt-a-pet from the GSPCA’s Animal Clinic and Shelter at Robb Street and Orange Walk, if you have the wherewithal to care well for the animals.  Do not stray your unwanted pets, take them to the GSPCA’s Clinic and Shelter instead.  If you see anyone being cruel to an animal, or if you need any technical information, please get in touch with the Clinic and Shelter by calling 226-4237.

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