What is Otitis Externa?
Otitis externa is inflammation of the ear canal which runs vertically from the opening to a point where it turns and runs horizontally into the head.
The underlying causes include food allergies, environmental allergies, ear mites and foreign bodies (grass seeds). Unless you can get rid of the cause you will have to manage this disease on a chronic basis rather than clearing it completely.
Bacterial and yeast infections perpetuate the problem.
Certain conditions predispose dogs to the development of otitis. These include long, floppy ears which lead to lack of ventilation (Spaniels), narrow ear canals (Shar Pei), regular swimmers (chronically wet canals) and hormone imbalances (low thyroid).
What does Otitis externa mean for your dog and you?
Unless you can treat the underlying cause you will have to manage the condition for the life time of the dog.
How is Otitis externa diagnosed?
Your dog will shake his head or scratch it with his back foot if it is painful. You may also detect a bad smell coming from the ears or see that they are very dirty on the inside.
Your vet will look into the ear canals using an otoscope to check for foreign bodies, tears in the ear drum and type of discharge. It is best to check the makeup of the discharge from the outset either by checking an ear swab under the microscope or sending it to the lab to be cultured. The treatment often depends on what secondary bacterial or yeast invader is present.
If your vet suspects that the infection has passed from the outer to the middle ear he/she may suggest they do an xray of the skull.
How is Otitis externa treated?
The treatment will depend on the cause.
Foreign bodies are removed under sedation.
Ear mites are treated with an ointment you can get from your vet or a spot on used monthly.
Food allergies are controlled by feeding a hypoallergenic diet.
Environmental allergies are treated in the same way they are treated in generalised dermatitis.
Swimmers ears can be washed out regularly using ear washes that have mild antiseptic properties. These washes are also useful in controlling chronic infections by getting rid of much of the discharge. Ear wahses keep the ear free of debris and often have mild antiseptic properties.
Ear drops prescribed by your vet contain cortisone, antibiotic and antifungal substances.