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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ear Issues

Ear infections are one of the most common problems I see in dogs. Sometimes it's an occasional problem, and with other patients it's chronic. Now, the first thing I want to make clear is that ear mites are uncommon to rare in dogs. Yes, it happens. But if your dog has itchy, smelly, dirty ears, odds are that it's NOT ear mites. See your vet for certain, and don't waste your money on over-the-counter medications.

The main thing I want to address today is the problem behind continual or chronic ear infections. If your dog has two or more ear infections in a year, then we consider this a chronic problem. Please understand that in these situations the infection is not the problem. The ear infection is the symptom, and there is some underlying problem that is causing the infections. You need to figure out why this is happening, and not just treat the infection. Let's say that you're a fireman and a house catches fire. You go and put it out as quickly as possible. Now let's say that a few months later another house catches fire in the same neighborhood. A few months after that, another house on the same street catches fire. This continues, every few months a new house in the same neighborhood burns. Of course, as a fireman, you would put out the fires when the happen. But when so many happen in the same neighborhood in such a short period of time, you will probably start suspecting an arsonist. To truly fix the problem, you need to find that arsonist, and stop him from setting the fires. Now take this analogy to chronic ear infections. Yes, you want to treat the problem, but then you need to find out why they keep happening.

There are numerous causes for chronic ear problems.

*Breed--Dogs with heavy ears that hang close to their head are more prone because lack of air circulation keeps moisture in the ears. Cocker spaniels are the worst breed for this problem.

*Hypothyroidism--Low thyroid levels can lower the effectiveness of the immune system, as well as make the skin more susceptible to infections.

*Excessive moisture--Dogs who have been bathed, swimming, or running through sprinklers can have an increased risk of infections because of water in the ears.

*Allergies--This is probably the #1 reason for chronic ear infections. Allergies can be related to fleas, food, pollens, mold, dust mites, and numerous other reasons. Inflammation from the allergies can make the skin (including in the ear canal) more susceptible to infection.

If you have a dog with chronic ear infections, please don't simply keep getting more medicine for the ears. Talk to your vet about the possible underlying causes, and treat them instead. If your vet doesn't seem interested in this kind of a discussion, consider getting a second opinion. Not truly treating the real problem can lead to permanent damage to the ears. Think about what is best for your furry friend.