How I Treat Itchy Smelly Dog Ears – Part 1

If you are dragging your dog to the vet for yet another round of ear cleanings, ear drops and other costly meds – read on. Some dogs are never “cured” from these frustrating bouts of ear scratching, head shaking and smelly ooze. But there is hope that you can lessen these painful episodes with routine care.

If your dog has been experiencing recurring ear problems that improve with medication and then, déjà vu when the medication is stopped – let’s talk about it. First, it’s a given that your vet has flashed a bright light into the ear canal using an otoscope and ruled out ear mites, abnormal polyp-like growths, and foreign objects like foxtails, right? Sometimes the canal will need to be flushed first, removing all debris to allow for a complete exam of the canal and tympanic membrane (a.k.a. ear drum). Depending on your dog’s cooperation and tolerance for discomfort, medical sedation is often needed to do a thorough job.

But before I grab my otoscope, I like to ask a few telling questions: How long has the problem been going on? Does it improve with treatment? What tests have been done? Which medications have been used? Is it one ear or both? These questions help me determine probable cause and the best treatment option.

Unlike the typical ear infections humans suffer (children especially) where the middle ear becomes a reservoir of bad bugs, dogs suffer primarily from external ear canal problems. Therefore, ear canal disease in dogs is categorized as a dermatologic (skin-related) condition and the reason that stubborn cases often end up being referred to veterinary dermatologists. These docs are the ear experts in the realm of veterinary medicine.

The typical disease cycle starts like this: relentless scratching irritates the skin surface of the ear canal which results in inflammation. Excessive ear wax production is a by-product of the inflammatory response, producing a rich environment for yeast and bacteria (normal residents of the ear) to multiply rapidly. An overgrowth of these microbes compounds the itchiness, adding fumes to the inflammatory fire pit. Now the itch-scratch cycle is in full force and your dog is begging to see the vet!

The microscopic presence of bacteria and yeast can be determined by taking a swab of the ear canal. Topical ear drops or ointments routinely prescribed are combo cocktails of antibiotics (to kill bacteria), antifungals (to kill yeast), and anti-inflammatory drugs like cortisone (necessary to dampen inflammation, stop the itch and reduce pain).

Next week I reveal my black bag secret weapon to stop the itch and help you solve your dog dilemma!

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