When Dr Eva Orsmond came to see me with Lincoln, she explained how she is watching his waistline. “I was away, and my pet minder likes to spoil him with a few treats so he put a few pounds on. I’m back now, and he’ll soon be his usual trim self.”. Some neutered male dogs can put on weight easily, but Lincoln is close to his ideal, thanks to Dr Eva’s disciplined approach to his diet.
Lincoln had been brought to see me because he was shaking his head and scratching his left ear. He was rubbing at it with his left forefoot, putting his paw in the ear then licking his foot, and there was dark black waxy material gathering around the opening of the ear.
It can be tricky enough examining a dog’s ears. The area that you can see on the side of the head is just the opening of the ear. In a large dog like Lincoln, the ear canal extends downwards from here for around 3cm, then inwards for around 2cm. Vets use an otoscope to look into the ear canal, all the way down to the ear drum. The veterinary instrument is similar to that used by a doctor to examine human ears, but with a bigger plastic cone attachment to allow for the longer, deeper ear canal of dogs compared to humans.
When a dog has a sore ear, it’s important to carry out a close, careful examination of the ear canal. Tiny objects – like grass seeds – can become lodged in the canal, setting up a severe irritation. If this happens, they need to be removed with forceps. Ear mites – tiny ant-like creatures – are also common, and if these are present, a specific anti-parasite treatment is needed.
I carefully inspected the inside of both of his ears: if one ear has a problem, it’s common for the other one also to be affected. I always start by checking the healthiest ear first: this allows the dog to get used to the sensation of having something poked into their ear before the sore area is touched. His right ear turned out to be completely normal, so I moved on to his left ear. He didn’t like having the otoscope poked in here: the ear must have been feeling itchy and painful. Dr Eva spoke to him sternly, asking him to sit still, and he obeyed at once. I was able to see that the lining of his ear canal was red and sore-looking, and there was an accumulation of large amounts of thick black wax. There were no grass seeds, and no ear mites.
This was a classic example of an ear infection, known in the veterinary world as otitis externa, or “inflammation of the external ear”. The cause is complicated: most often, it seems to “just happen”, but in fact it’s due to a combination of factors, including the shape of the dog’s ear, allergies to dusts and pollens, and infection with bacteria and yeasts moving into the ear from the skin. Treatment is usually simple, with most cases responding to a course of ear ointment containing antibiotics, anti-yeast medication, and soothing anti-inflammatory drugs.
Dr Eva headed off with a bottle of ear drops and instructions to apply them twice daily. Some people have difficulty getting the drops into their pet’s ears, but somehow I think that this won’t be an issue in this case.
- Ear infections are common in dogs
- It’s important to check the ear for problems like grass seeds and ear mites
- Most sore ears respond to a simple course of veterinary ear drops