I have experienced the dark side of what can happen with chronic ear problems for a dog, with my beautiful staffy Alma. She is one of my many rescue animals, and is in her 15th year on earth. Despite her relative good health these days, she has struggled with ear infections and inflammation for as long as I have known her.
I rescued her when she was about 9. Her right ear had already been operated on, with a TECA – a total ear canal ablation. This is essentially where the canal tube is completely removed from the middle ear and the opening to the ear is stitched over. It sounds brutal doesn’t it? Well, this is often the outcome for a dog, after chronic ear illnesses, that are not resolved. Alma has had a TECA on both ears now, which was the only option for her. She is no longer in pain, but it certainly pains me to think that this could have been avoided if her previous owner had taken care of her the way she needed!
What causes ear problems?
The ear canal of a dog is a funny shape, it is shaped like the letter L, so bacteria and yeast are able to set up a nice home in there much easier. Whilst it is more common for dogs with long and hairy ears such as spaniels and retrievers to get infections of the ear, any breed can be at risk, particularly those susceptible to allergies. For this reason, it is worth keeping a regular eye on the ear canal of your dog, and certainly worthwhile getting your puppy used to having their ears checked.
How can you tell if your dog may have an ear infection?
There are quite obvious signs of ear irritation, such as your dog furiously scratching or shaking their head. Many dogs will also lie on their sides and rub the sore ear along the ground for some relief. Other signs may be redness or swelling, smelly oozing from the ear, or potentially swelling of the actual ear flap itself. This is a hard swelling that forms as a haematoma, and will need veterinary assistance. Less common but possibly more serious symptoms can be due to an infection of the middle or inner ear. These can include, balancing issues, vomiting and loss of hearing.
Can I prevent it?
There are many things you can do to maintain your dog’s aural health. Ask your vet or groomer how to keep your dog’s ears clean, and consult with your vet about appropriate medication if required. Keeping the hair around your dog’s ears clean and tidy will help, as well as checking their ears after being in the water or after being in bushland or environments where there may be grass seeds, parasites or similar irritants.
How do I treat it?
If the issue doesn’t resolve with cleaning, then your vet may prescribe medicated ear drops, oral antibiotics and possibly anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling and pain. But remember, prevention where possible is better than cure as ear issues can be ongoing, expensive and distressing to your dog.