Otitis externa which is inflammation of the inner ear canal is a very common problem of dogs. The most common primary cause is environmental allergies. Unlike people who develop watery eyes and sneeze, dogs tend to itch. Their ears itch turn red and are usually painful. A discharge usually develops, malodorous and either brownish or yellowish. Additionally, surface bacteria and yeast take advantage of the inflamed skin and cause a secondary infection.
Many veterinarians refer to otitis externa as an ear infection which unfortunately implies that if we can find the medication the “bugs” are sensitive to, we can cure the problem. Since the infection is a secondary complication, this is not the case. Unless we can eliminate the source of the allergies, or find another reason for the problem, there is no final solution for many of our dogs.
This doesn’t mean we are powerless to help your dog. We must address many factors that play a role in this disease. Our goal is to identify the factors involved and develop a treatment plan designed to improve your dog’s condition. Like many skin problems, there are few cut and dry solutions. Otitis externa is frustrating to pet owners and veterinarians because it takes multiple rechecks to tailor a plan to help your dog.
Some of the common treatments of otitis externa involve ear flushing. Flushing your dog’s ear helps by removing or minimizing factors such as wax overproduction, excessive moisture, and inflammatory debris. While your dog might be resistant to the idea, any control plan will involve some degree of flushing. The procedure involves using a generous amount of flush solution, gentle massaging of the ear, and then allowing the dog to shake its head to expel the flush and debris. Wipe out the ear afterward to remove loose debris. In more advanced cases, we may recommend flushing your dog’s ears under general anesthesia.
We commonly prescribe topical medications which contain a combination of anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antifungal medications. These try to eliminate the secondary infection while minimizing the inflammatory reaction to the allergen. In more advanced cases, we may prescribe oral medication for a systemic response.
Since many cases of otitis externa tend to reoccur, we may recommend a maintenance plan to keep your dog relatively symptom free. A schedule of flushing is usually the first step to try and remove the wax, moisture, and debris. The second step is applying topical medications as needed to secondary infection and inflammation of the ear canal. The ultimate treatment would be to address the allergies themselves, either by changing your dog’s diet or seeking a referral to a veterinary dermatologist for allergy testing and desensitization.
Remember, we are here to help you make these decisions and design a treatment or control plan. We must examine your dog to evaluate several different factors that may be involved and approach this disease in a step-wise fashion. We understand the frustration that occurs and the feeling of powerlessness or hopelessness. Otitis externa is a complex problem, and it requires a team approach. Please feel free to contact us so we can help you and your dog.