Otitis externa is an inflammation of the outer ear and ear canal.
Dogs with floppy ears are more prone to Otitis externa, as airflow is limited and a warm, moist environment is conducive to infection. The external ear in animals is longer and deeper than in humans, which makes it easier for infection or wax to build up and hard to remove. Many dogs with allergic skin diseases, particularly canine atopy and food hypersensitivity dermatitis, are predisposed to ear infections as part of the generalised skin response. Similarly, dogs with primary and secondary seborrhoea often have ear canal involvement, characterised by a build-up of yellowish oily wax that provides an excellent medium for bacterial growth.
Signs of ear infection include shaking of the head and scratching at, or under, the ear. Some dogs may also try to rub the ear on other objects to relieve pain and discomfort. The ear is painful. The dog often tilts or carries its head down on the painful side and cries or whines when the ear is touched. Owners will often notice an unpleasant odour.
An examination reveals redness and swelling of the skin folds. There is usually a waxy or purulent discharge with a bad odour. Because external ear infections often progress to the middle ear, it is extremely important to take your dog to a veterinarian as soon as you suspect an ear problem.
Veterinary examination of the deep portions of the ear canal using an otoscope is the most important step in making the diagnosis and planning the treatment. Examination cannot be attempted if the canal is dirty and filled with wax and purulent debris. First, the ear must be cleaned. This may require sedation or anaesthesia. It is essential to know whether the eardrums are intact, since it is not safe to medicate the ears with certain medications if the drums are perforated.
Follow-up care at home involves medicating the ear with a preparation prescribed by your veterinarian. If the ear continues to produce wax and exudate, a cleansing and flushing solution, such as Epi-Otic, may be recommended. Topical and/or oral corticosteroids may be recommended to control pain and decrease swelling and inflammation. Some dogs may need oral antibiotics as well for severe infections. Your veterinarian will discuss the best treatment for your dog
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