Otitis externa is a particularly common problem in dogs. Prevention is always better than cure, and ear inspections and cleaning are important in both preventing otitis and controlling recurrent cases. Ear inspections should form part of your general examination, and it’s possible to identify breeds that may be susceptible to waxy build-ups and therefore those that would benefit from a preventive ear care regimen. The external ear canal is divided into the vertical canal and horizontal canal. At the base of the vertical canal is a 90-degree bend where the canal becomes narrower and continues towards the tympanic membrane (ear drum). Wax and other substances are continually produced by the ear canal to keep the lining supple and healthy. Breeds with pendulous pinnae and excess hair in the ear canal are at particular risk of otitis externa, as the ear canal can accumulate excessive amounts of this wax and debris, which can lead to a disruption of the ear’s normal ventilation. This can potentially result in overgrowth of bacteria such as Staphylococcus pseudintermedius, and yeasts such as Malassezia pachydermatis, which are common perpetuating causes of otitis.
For pets with recurrent otitis, clipping hair from the inside of the pinna and around the external auditory meatus, and plucking it from the ear canals, may improve ventilation and decreases humidity in the ears. Hair should not routinely be removed from the ear canal, however, if it is not thought to be a contributing factor to the otitis, as in doing so there is a risk of inducing an inflammatory reaction. Ear care is an area where, with your advice and guidance, clients can be taught to check for the early signs of infection and keep their pets’ ears healthy.
The normal ear
The skin inside a dog’s ear should be a healthy, light-pink colour. Owners should be advised that it is common to see some specks of yellowish-brown wax, but a build-up of yellow or green purulent discharge may be a sign of bacterial infection, while yeast infections tend to produce a greasy, dark brownish, waxy discharge. Clinical signs of bacterial or yeast infection include irritation (scratching, head shaking) and an odour. If these signs are seen, the client should consult their veterinary practice. A preventive ear cleaning regimen can simply involve regular inspection of the ear, cleaning with a commercial ear cleaner (such as CleanAural) when necessary and visits to the veterinary practice should any irritation, inflammation or infection arise.
Teaching owners to clean their pets’ ears
1. Demonstrate how to hold the dog’s head calmly and firmly. If the dog has floppy ears, the ear flap should be gently folded back over the head to reveal the entrance to the ear canal.
2. Then instruct them to carefully insert the soft nozzle of the ear cleaner bottle into the upper part of the ear canal. Ensure they leave a gap between the nozzle and the ear canal before gently squeezing the required amount of solution into the ear canal.
3. Ideally, the solution should be placed in the hand or pocket for about five minutes prior to use, so it is around body temperature at the time of application.
4. The ear canal can then be massaged gently, working from the base upwards.
5. The pet should be allowed to shake excess solution from the ear (so owners may not want to clean ears in the lounge, for example!), then loosened wax and debris can be gently wiped away with cotton wool or similar.
6. The ear should then be inspected and the process repeated if necessary.
Then the other ear can be cleaned!
Although it is generally safe to clean ears once or twice a week, they should not be over-cleaned, as this can damage the delicate lining. Clients should be made aware of the dangers of damaging the ear drum by putting anything down the ear canal – particularly cotton buds.
Owners with pets displaying signs of otitis externa should be advised to make an appointment at the veterinary practice. Investigating the causes of otitis may involve cytology. Otitis externa can usually be treated with topical polypharmaceutical ear preparations (such as Canaural), which tackle ear mites, infection and inflammation, as well as the waxy build-up itself.
This article was provided by Dechra Veterinary Products, makers of CleanAural:
1. Bensignor,E (2003) An approach to otitis externa and otitis media. In: BSAVA Manual of Small Animal Dermatology second edition (eds Foster A.P. and Foil C.S.) British Small Animal Veterinary Association.