What Is Otitis?
Otitis is an inflammation of the ear caused by an infection. It has two main types. Otitis externa and otitis media.
Otitis externa or outer ear infection is an inflammation of the external ear canal. It is one of the most common issues vets deal with on a daily basis. Clinical signs may include odor, pain upon manipulation of the ear, itching, redness, and head shaking. This happens when the glands lining the canal, enlarge and produce excessive wax. The outer skin and the inner skin gradually produce excessive fibrous tissue, making the canal narrow. If chronic, otitis externa leads to a ruptured eardrum and otitis media. Ear infections may occur with any breed. But breeds with large, hairy, or floppy ears such as cocker spaniels, are more prone.
Otitis media, on the other hand, is an inflammation of the middle ear. It occurs as a result of otitis externa. This causes a membrane that separates the external ear and middle ear, to rupture.
In worst cases, your dog may suffer permanent hearing loss.
How did my dog (cat) get it?
Your dog or cat could have developed otitis from a number of factors. The primary causes of otitis externa are vast. The most common are as follows:
Parasites (ear mites and ticks)
Hypersensitivity disorders (allergies from the environment, drug reactions, food allergies)
Keratinization disorders (abnormal production of cerumen)
Endocrine disorders (hypothyroidism, hormone imbalances)
Foreign bodies (plant material, hair, sand, hardened medication)
Other causes include bacteria, fungus, yeast, breed disposition, excessive moisture, immunosuppression or even overtreatment.
What are the symptoms or how is it diagnosed?
Ear infections are very painful. Dogs will scratch their ears and shake their heads to relieve the soreness. Ears turn red, inflamed and may develop an offensive odor. Be on the lookout for black or yellowish discharge. In chronic cases, you may find ears that are crusty or thickened. Ear canals can also become narrowed due to the chronic inflammation.
Your vet may have an X-ray done to diagnose otitis or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to spot fluid accumulation or soft tissue growth in the middle ear.
How is it treated?
In most cases, an ear cleaning is performed by the veterinarian. There are several cleaning and flushing techniques that have proven to be effective. Vets do not recommend that dog owners do this themselves as the tendency is to be too aggressive. In addition, flushing is best performed by experienced practitioners with a video-otoscope.
In dogs with end-stage otitis, it is nearly impossible to get cleansers deep into the ear canal. If this is the case, the dog has to be anesthetized so that his ear can be properly dilated to place a cone as far into the canal as possible. The cone is then filled with cleanser and then slowly pulled out.
What kind of aftercare is required after going to the vet?
At-home care will include the application of commercial topical products containing antibiotic/antifungal and glucocorticoids until the infection is resolved. Your vet will teach you how to get medication into the horizontal part of the ear canal. It is crucial that you do this properly because a dog’s external ear is “L” shaped. The goal is to apply the medication into the lower part of the “L”.
The best kind of aftercare for otitis is prevention. Most vets will require multiple ear flushes in the clinic and a continuous application of antiseptic, antibiotic or antifungal topical therapy until a cytologic exam reveals no inflammatory cells.