During the hotter months, veterinary surgeons have to deal with many animals with painful ear infections. Dogs with long ear flaps are most likely to be affected, but even dogs with short, erect ears are not immune.
The first task of the veterinary surgeon is to prepare the ear so that a thorough examination can be carried out. In some cases the condition is so painful that the animal resents the most gentle handling and some form of sedation or anesthesia must be administered.
A special lamp is used with a long speculum so that light can reach the deepest recesses of the ear canal. Very often the ear is clogged with wax or the exudates caused by chronic infection and these must be removed. Care is taken not to further injure the sensitive lining of the external ear canal.
The skin lining the ear canal may be inflamed as an extension of a skin irritation affecting the whole of the dog’s skin. In spring and autumn during periods of molting, some dogs develop a general skin ailment associated with reddening and irritation. The lining of the ears appears red but the ears are dry and clean.
Sometimes a flea infestation provokes such a generalized eczema. The ear condition settles down as soon as the generalized skin inflammation is brought under control.
Dogs with very thick hair growing inside the ear canals are very prone to develop severe ear infection during the hot weather. The external opening of the ear becomes clogged with matted hair, producing conditions inside the ear ideal for the proliferation of the mixed population of bacteria and fungi that are normally found there.
The ear first becomes itchy and the dog scratches vigorously with its hind feet. This further irritates the tissues of the ear and helps to spread the infection into the deeper tissues. Soon the ear becomes clogged with a mass of matted hair, wax and exudates.
Attempts to treat the infection with antibiotic ointments and powders are doomed unless the ear canal is freed of hair and carefully cleaned. Poodles, Airedales, wire haired terriers, and Old English sheep dogs are some of the breeds that are very prone to this form of summer ear ailment.
The possibility of a foreign body such as a grass seed lodging in the ear canal must be borne in mind. Usually this provokes such a violent response that the owner seeks veterinary attention quickly.
Occasionally a small seed may find its way into the ear canal and be in such a position that little pain is elicited. In these cases the tissues within the ear respond by coating the foreign body with a thick covering of dark strong-smelling waxy exudate.
Ear mites are tiny insects which can proliferate within the ear canal of a dog or cat and cause a chronic irritation. Young animals are most frequently affected and the animal reacts by rigorously shaking or scratching its ear from time to time. Examination of the external ear canal reveals a thick, reddish waxy exudate which completely blocks the ear canal.
The ear mite does not burrow into the skin lining the ear but its presence seems to provoke an allergic reaction and make the tissues more prone to bacterial ear infection. The mites are easily killed with normal insecticides once the waxy exudate has been removed to enable the medication to come in contact with the parasite.
Dogs prone to ear infections should have the hair removed from the ear canal regularly. Care should be taken, if the dog swims frequently during the summer, to apply some ear drops to the ears after swimming. In some dogs the regular administration of drops that acidify the surface tissues of the ear canal has brought about a dramatic reduction in the incidence of ear infections.