Have you noticed your dog shaking its head, scratching at its ears or holding its head a little funny?

It probably has an ear infection or a foreign body inside the ear. Other times, ear problems can be more subtle.

Next time you whisper a sweet nothing in your pet’s ear, do a little sniffing. A “funny” sour odor is a sign that your best friend might have an ear infection.

While you’re at it, pick up those earflaps and take a quick look under the hood. Redness, a discharge and a waxy buildup are other indications of a possible problem that should be looked at by your veterinarian.

Unfortunately the same deep ear canal that contributes to your dog’s excellent sense of hearing can also provide a fertile breeding ground for mites, bacteria and yeast. This is especially true if your pet is a floppy-eared breed like a cocker spaniel or basset hound.

Those long, silky flaps look adorable, but they also block the flow of air to your dog’s ear, creating the kind of warm moist environment that harmful microorganisms just love.

It doesn’t matter what kind of dog you have. An at-home ear inspection should be part of your weekly pet care routine. Left untreated, ear infections can lead to serious problems, such as debilitating pain and permanent hearing loss.

There is something wrong with a dog if it needs to have its ears cleaned all the time, That “something wrong” it turns out is often allergies. About 80 percent of food-allergic or atopic dogs (dogs that react to environmental allergens by having skin conditions) will have a history of ear problems and/or they have to have their ears cleaned to prevent ear disease. Hypothyroidism will also cause chronic ear problems, as will an unresolved ear mite infestation.

The bottom line is that ear problems that come on suddenly merit a trip to the vet, and chronic ear problems can be a sign of an underlying systemic disease and definitely need a complete diagnostic workup by your local veterinarian, if not a trip to a veterinary specialist.

Sometimes your veterinarian may recommend you clean your pet’s ears to remove excessive wax and debris. Cleaning your pet’s ears at home is simple, and there are a variety of products available at veterinary clinic’s and pet stores that make the process safe and effective.

To clean your pet’s ears, apply a product that has been recommended only by your vet and begin by cleaning the inside of the flaps and the entrance to the canal with a cotton ball. Work the cleaner into the surface with a gentle massaging motion for at least five minutes, but be careful not to move any further into the ear canal than you can see.

Forcing your finger beyond this point can harm your pet’s eardrum. If your pet seems very uncomfortable during ear cleaning or is in obvious pain, stop immediately and call your veterinarian, since this could be a sign of a more serious infection.

When you finish working the solution into your pet’s ears, wipe them dry with a clean cotton ball.

Do not use water to clean or rinse the ears. Remember that moisture can predispose to infections.

You should also be careful to avoid using cotton swabs, since they can damage the canal and force debris deeper into the ear.

In addition to cleaning your dog’s ears, you can reduce the risk of infection by removing excess hair from inside the canal. A good way to do this is to dust the area with ear powder to loosen hair and then gently pluck it with your fingers.

If your dog objects to this, you can cut the ear hair using blunt- tipped scissors.

Another helpful hint is to put a cotton ball in your pet’s ear during bath time to prevent water from getting inside.

Taking these simple steps to protect your pet’s ears will pay big dividends in the long run. After all, dogs that aren’t bothered by ear problems are better able to hear us when we tell them how much we love them. 

By Marty Becker, DVM
Source: The Spokesman Review/Knight Ridder

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