My Dog Keeps Shaking Head and Scratching Ear

Puppies may develop an irritating form of ear infection caused by ear mites – small insects that inhabit the ear canal and produce an intense irritation. The puppy vigorously scratches and shakes its head producing more damage to the lining of the ear.

The ear canal becomes filled with a reddish exudate which can be difficult to remove unless the animal is anesthetized. Whole litters of puppies are affected and the infection can persist into later life. Older dogs can develop ear mites, usually after playing with an infected puppy.

Treatment of ear mites is simple once the ear canal has been cleaned. Oily drops contain an insecticide quickly control the mites. Apparent failures occur when the ear canal is so filled with the waxy exudate that medication is unable to penetrate deeply inside the ear canal.

An acute ear infection involving the external tissues of the ear commonly occurs in the summer months. The dog may suddenly begin to shake its head and scratch an ear. Usually the affected ear is held lower than normal.

Dog keeps shaking head
Dog shaking head is a sign of ear infection.

Examination inside the ear flap reveals an intense reddening of the tissues often accompanied by a foul-smelling thin exudate. The tissues quickly become painful and the dog resents any handling. This condition is usually caused by a Staphylococci bacterial infection.

Prompt veterinary attention is necessary in acute ear conditions as it is vital to begin the correct treatment before too much damage is done to the sensitive ear tissues. As the condition commonly occurs in the summer months, the possibility of a grass seed lodging in the ear canal must be eliminated.

Treatment is aimed at reducing the intense irritation with the use of anti-inflammatory ointments combined with an appropriate antibiotic. Sedation of the animal is usually advisable in the early stages of treatment to avoid the dog rubbing the ear. Antibiotics are also administered by mouth to prevent the bacterial infection spreading to surrounding tissues.

The most common ear condition encountered in veterinary practice is the chronic infection of the external ear in dogs with long pendulous ear flaps. This condition, commonly called “Canker”, is not a simple disease entity in itself and therefore does not have a simple solution.

Man has selectively bred many breeds of dogs to produce long pendulous ears. Cocker Spaniels, Basset hounds, Afghan hounds and Poodles are a few of the breeds that are most prone to suffer chronic ear infections. Pendulous ears produce a distortion of the ear canal which inhibits drainage and ventilation.

Dogs with floppy ears are prone to ear infections
Dogs with floppy ears are prone to ear infections which make dogs want to shake their heads.

Moist humid conditions inside the ear produces an ideal environment for the growth of bacteria and fungi. Other factors such as the presence of plugs of hair in the ear canal or small foreign bodies such as burrs or grass seeds may abrade the lining of the ear canal and encourage the invasion of the organisms already present within the ear.

Treatment is usually sought when the dog begins to shake or tub its ear frequently or spends long periods scratching its ears. Examination of the ears with an otoscope reveals a mess of dark, waxy deposit covering the entire surface of the external canal.

When this is removed, the skin lining of the canal is reddened and swollen, and if the condition has been present a long time, it may be so thickened that the canal is almost obliterated.

The ears must be thoroughly, but very gently, cleaned. Accumulations of matted hair must be removed and the hair plucked from the tissues surrounding the external ear to avoid future penetration into the canal.

It is usually necessary to do this under anesthesia. An ointment is then instilled into the depths of the ear and repeated applications are carried out once daily until all signs of irritation are eliminated.

Vigorous cleaning of the ear canals with cotton buds should be discouraged as this serves only to irritate the already damaged tissues and encourage further infection.

Prompt attention to ear infections early in the dog’s life should lessen the possibility of the development of chronic ear diseases.

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