Dermatology and Our Pets

Learning About Ear Infections in Dogs and Cats

Ever notice your pet having redness or itchiness around its ear? This is more common than you may think, in our lesson today we’ll be learning about some new terminology and the anatomy of the ear. We’ll also be recognizing factors that contribute to the development of ear infections and the changes that occur after an infection has taken place. Lastly, we’ll learn how to treat and maintain the treatment of an infection to keep your animal happy and healthy.

indoor orange tabby scratching ear
Getting that pesky itch.

What Causes Ear Infections?

First, we’ll be dealing with a word you all may be familiar with, Predisposition. If an animal is predisposed to ear infections, it means that they have the anatomy or behavioral signs that indicate an increased risk of infection before analysis. Inversely, a perpetuating factor occurs as a result of a root cause. Either of these can lead to the primary factor, the direct cause of the infection. Secondary factors are an infection that occurs during or after treatment for another infection. Yeast and Bacteria are great examples of secondary factors. These two are a part of a symbiotic relationship, meaning that they both help each other produce and spread.

What kind of Ear Infections are there?

Discomfort, inflammation, and infection are the words of the day. When your pet is feeling these abnormal signs, use it as an opportunity to get treatment or analysis from a qualified physician. Most of the discomforts your animals are feeling will be scientifically described with Latin names that’ll identify what part of the ear is being affected. Otitis- is a general term for the inflammation or infection of the ear, which is then followed by a Latin term that describes the location. We’ll be going deeper into how the location of infection helps pinpoint root causes and then suggest a sufficient treatment for the affected area. Let’s get started.

Otitis Externa: External Ear Infection

Surface-level infections are easy to identify and treat. Otitis Externa, for example, is an inflammation of the external portion of your pet’s ear, usually the ear flap. Luckily, 99% of external ear infections can be treated with topical therapy, a solution that is applied directly to the surface of the ear. In this case, applying different solutions directly to the ear-flap will help maintain different kinds of nasty bacteria and yeast build-up that can become the primary factor of their itchiness. It’s good to be on top of these types of infections as they are the number one insurance claim for pet parents. Though, by doing cleanings 1-2 times a week, you can help prevent Otitis Media (Middle Ear Infections).

Otitis Media: Middle Ear Infections

Inner-ear infections are often perpetuated by an external infection. Often through negligence or not knowing the hidden harm that waits in your pet’s head. Otitis Media is a deeper ear infection that tends to affect the ear canal or even your pet’s eardrum. External ear infections can increase the debris inside of a pet’s ear canal. This extra debris can lead to inflamed ear canals becoming too swollen and causing issues with the tympanic membrane, or as we all know it, the eardrum. These issues can lead to hearing loss, head tilt, nerve paralysis, loss of balance, or even a ruptured eardrum. Based on your animal’s cytology (Cell analysis), there are a few different vehicles that can get vital medicine 2-4″ into the ear canal. Ointments would be perfect for waxy exudate or suspension solutions for purulent exudate. Exudate is a mass of cells and fluid that begins seeping out of blood vessels or an organ, especially in inflammation. Doing even basic cleaning of exudate, or any nasty gunk in your pet’s ears before applying these solutions, can do nothing but good.

shepherd mix puppy and cat roll in the grass together

Allergies

Hypersensitivity to the elements that surround our pets will lead to one of the most prevalent animal disorders, allergies. Also known as atopic dermatitis, allergies can be blamed for 65-83% of otitis in dogs. Weirdly enough, cats only really take up 7-20% of the spectrum. Solving your pet’s allergies can be quite the task. Beyond popular belief, there are no accurate tests for food allergens. So the best way to solve issues with allergens is to be present and analyze what factors are leading to the sensitivity. For example, try a limited-ingredient formula dog food with some kind of hydrolyzed protein– pre-broken down proteins that are too small to trigger a dog’s allergies, a novel protein– a meat source that is uncommon to your dog’s genealogy, or if you believe there is an influx of reaction with the season, you should take some notes and report your findings to a professional. The more informed you are, the easier it is for a qualified physician to prescribe a solution, this is a type of monitoring therapy. If all else fails you can ask your vet if they have an animal dermatologist that they would recommend. There is bound to be one in your area.

I have to See a Dog or Cat Dermatologist?

Otitis will not be solved with therapy alone. Sometimes you need to call in a Dermatology specialist to help find, eliminate, or maintain the underlying cause. There are no cures for allergies, so having a representative that can point you toward the safest long-term plan is your next safest bet. They can also provide Immunotherapy– an option for both older and younger pets that has a high success rate in treating an animal’s allergies, these still can result in flare-ups from time to time, but it is touted as the only true treatment for pet allergies. If you are attempting to do all of this at home yourself, be careful if you are attempting to give any injections at home. Pets should be very calm when given their injections. Dermatologists work with very fine needles so, if this is impossible in your case, oral options are available as well.

Summary

Otitis is a multifactorial disease, you or a specialist need to identify and correct all factors of infection. The short-term goal, when an infection is present, is to allow for a cytology re-check from time to time and then clean or treat any secondary infections that may be discovered. The long-term goal is to initiate an investigation into what is causing the clinical signs of otitis. Once you feel your pet is back to normal, know that your newly relieved friend, who now receives excellent care for allergic disease, can have relapses. So start from the root, try a topical solution, and attempt to maintain good ear health in a way that’ll work best for you and your bundle of fuzzy joy.

Q and A in word bubbles

Unanswered Questions for Dr. Tina Brown

Will giving a dog local honey help with seasonal allergies?

It is similar to the concept of immunotherapy, in mild cases it can be helpful but it may not be the correct allergens for that patient, or high enough doses to change the immune system. It would not be harmful but might not be as helpful.

Zymox is an ear cleaner that doesn’t recommend cleaning first. It’s enzymatic according to the packaging.

This is a product that binds to the debris, the difference is that’s Zymox’s method is more for a treatment than a cleanser. For cleansers, they are going into a dirty ear, so you want to make sure it’s cleaned out before treatment.

If a dog is excessively sneezing or sniffing, is this allergies or something else?

It could be allergies, it could be other things. Sometimes you see respiratory issues, it could be nasal parasites, or a small foreign body. I would check with your vet to be sure!

Thank you for your help. Can you explain a novel diet or hydrolyzed diet?

Novel- meaning a different unique protein. Like rabbit, kangaroo, or something like that. A hydrolyzed diet would be a common protein source like chicken, but they make the particle size so small that it doesn’t usually trigger the system.

We see a lot of pit bull type dogs come in with allergies. It’s common practice for “breeders” to separate the puppies from the mother and her milk at 6 weeks old. Do you have an opinion on whether or not this practice can contribute to allergies in the adult dog?

Not to my knowledge. Most of the time pit bulls are more predisposed to environmental allergies.

For an ear infection, my vet prescribed HexZole as a cleaning ear flush before administering EasOtic. However, when googling HexZole, I didn’t see anything about using it in dogs ears. Instead it says that it is used for cleaning wounds and skin infections. Is HexZole actually ok to use in my dogs ears?

HexZole is fine! The hex is chlorhexidine, and if it was prescribed by your vet, it should be fine.

When doing an elimination diet, how long would you expect it to take before seeing results to a specific protein/ingredient?

Usually, we’ll say it can take anywhere from 10-12, even up to 16 weeks. From personal experience, you start to see them trending in the right direction by 4-6 weeks.

My little girl has a sensitivity to potato and would grow yellow scabs when she eats potatoes. What type of allergy is this?

It could potentially be a hypersensitivity to potato. It could also be a minor skin infection. It may also be environmental. An allergy to potato is unlikely, but I would try to eliminate potato from the diet to see if you notice improvement.

Should we go grain free for allergies?

No, I would focus on proteins with elimination diet.

Our pure breed pit had cancer last year. Our vet told us it was because of overactive histamine. It is now back after being removed.

I wonder if your dog had a mast cell tumor, as they produce histamine. They can have recurrence of other mast cells tumors that need to be removed.

What is the best way to determine if a dogs head tilt is related to prolonged inner-ear issues and is it reversible?

That is a good question! Usually starting out with a basic otic exam if you’ve had a history of ear infections, that probably makes middle ear infection more likely. If not, your next step may be CT or an MRI, and a referral to a neurologist.

You said dermatitis is a common symptom of allergies… does it ever occur only in one spot like only on the snout, one leg, or is something else causing it?

Yes, it can definitely just be focal areas. Sometimes it may just be one foot. One of my dogs when he has a flare up, licks only his one back foot. When I give him his allergy serum, he stops licking that one foot.

My lab pit mix has brown gunk when he shakes his head. Is this a signal? It leaves quickly, is this normal?

If it’s excess gunk, if he’s not bothered by it – it could be normal. If he does scratch or shake his head, it is probably an indication of an ear infection.

Can there be other reasons for my dog frequently shaking her head other than an ear infection?

It may not necessarily be an infection, it may be irritation. It could potentially be a change to deeper structures inside the ear. I would see your regular vet to check on this.

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