Ear Disease

Is your dog shaking his head or scratching one or both ears repeatedly? This is a common occurrence in many households and is often a sign of ear infections or inflammation. Itchy ears can result from ear infections, mite infestations, and foreign bodies such as foxtails.  Some pets will also have itchy ears due to an underlying skin disease without any problems present within the ear canal. Treatment of the underlying skin disease can often reduce or eliminate the severity of disease in the ears.

Many factors can affect the health of the ear canal and contribute to disease. These include temperature changes within the canal, humidity, ventilation, excessive trauma,and gland changes. Due to anatomy and genetics, some dogs are more likely to have these factors present and thus more easily develop ear disease. Two of the most common reasons dogs are seen for head shaking and itchy ears are bacterial and yeast infections. Bacterial and yeast infections often cause a foul odor to be omitted from the ears. These can be easily identified by your veterinarian based on ear swabs. A sample is taken with a cotton swab from each ear, placed on a slide, stained and then examined under the microscope. By identifying the cause of disease, the infection can be treated more accurately. This often requires topical medications but depending on the disease, may also require oral medications.  

Mite infestations are another reason dogs may itch their ears or acquire ear debris. There are several types of mites that can infect a dog's ears. Some of these live in the dog's ear canal and some live on the surface of the skin or in the hair shaft. Treatment for mites varies depending on the type of mite present and the extent of infestation.

In the spring, summer,and fall months, foxtails and other plant material often lodge in the ears of pets. These can be identified through otoscopic examination by your veterinarian. While some animals may allow for foreign body removal while awake, most animals need to be sedated or anesthetized to allow for removal.  When a foxtail or foreign body is present, most animals violently shake their heads, scratch at their ears, or whine when the ears are rubbed or touched. However, some animals may have more subtle signs like an occasional head shake. It is important that foxtails are removed from the ear canal for comfort and to prevent the foxtails from tracking through the ear drum or causing more severe infections.  

It is important to have your dog seen by a veterinarian if you see excessive scratching at the ears,shaking of the head, or pain when rubbing the ears. These are the most common signs of ear disease seen in dogs. It can indicate anything from minor inflammation or infection to severe debris or the presence of foreign objects such as foxtails.


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