Most dogs at some time or other suffer ear troubles. Infections, parasites, foreign bodies, and wounds can affect this vital organ. Some breeds, because of the shape of their ears, are more likely than others to suffer ear troubles.
The ear flap, or pinna, is often injured in dog fights. This structure is well supplied with blood vessels and so bleeds profusely.
As a dog tends to shake its head vigorously when an ear is damaged, it soon covers everything in the vicinity with evidence of the fight. Wounds are best sutured as soon as possible before swelling and infection jeopardize the success of the surgery.
The ear flap sometimes becomes swollen, although without external signs of damage. A soft swelling containing fluid trapped between the ear cartilage and the skin develops as a result of damage to one of the larger blood vessels inside the ear. The ear becomes heavy and the dog tilts its head to the affected side.
Very often this is a self-induced injury, caused by the dog vigorously scratching its ear with its powerful hind legs or when shaking its head by striking a chair leg or low table with the ear flap.
The veterinarian checks inside the ear to find the source of irritation before draining the accumulation of blood clots and serum within the flap. Special measures are necessary to prevent permanent distortion of the ear cartilage.
A common minor problem that crops up every autumn is the appearance of blood-encrusted sores at the tips of erect ears or at the base of pendulous ears. The cause is a large blood-sucking fly that can be a source of considerable annoyance until it disappears with the onset of cold weather.
The only preventive measure possible is to smear fly repellent cream on to the ears each morning. Repellent sprays suitable for humans are not satisfactory, as most dogs resent the aerosol spray.
Another seasonal problem is the penetration of grass seeds into the ear canal.
Dogs with floppy ears covered by long hair are most likely to suffer this painful experience. The seed attaches itself to the hair in front of the ear and the swinging action of the ear flap conducts it into the canal.
The dog immediately shows signs of discomfort by yelping, holding its head on one side and rubbing its ear on the floor. As the seed quickly disappears into the depths of the sensitive ear canal the veterinarian usually has to give the dog a short-acting anesthetic to remove the seed.
Bacterial ear infections
Infections of the ear canal are a common cause of more chronic ear problems.
Again it is long-eared dogs, such as spaniels and poodles, that are the more prone to develop infections, because the ear canal in these breeds is virtually closed and the moist warm conditions favor the growth of bacteria and fungi.
Dogs with fully erect ears seldom suffer from bacterial ear infections as the ear canal in these breeds is straight and relatively wide.
Fortunately most bacterial ear infections can be controlled with modern combinations of antibiotics and fungicidal agents. Cases not responding to treatment sometimes require surgery on the ear canal to establish better drainage and ventilation.
With long-haired dogs it is important to keep the ear canal free of matted hair as accumulations of hair and wax act as a foreign body inside the ear and encourage bacterial infection.
Ear mite infection
Young dogs often suffer from an acute irritating infection caused by a small mite. The mites suck blood by biting the sensitive lining of the ear canal, which quickly becomes covered by dark encrustations. Fortunately ear mites are easily controlled using oily based insecticidal drops.
Owners should be careful when attempting to clean their dog’s ears. Too vigorous probing with cotton buds can injure the sensitive lining of the ear canal and predispose it to infection. Gentle wiping of the external portion of the ear with cotton wool, moistened with olive oil or baby oil, is all that is necessary.