What causes itchy ears?
The most common cause for head shaking is ear infections. Some of the factors that increase the chances of your dog developing an ear infection are skin allergies, ear mites, swimming and humidity. Some breeds are even more at risk due to the conformation of the ear, whether it being long and pendulous like a Cocker Spaniel’s ears or hairy inside the ear canal like a Poodle’s ears. It is important for owners to act quickly by taking their pets to the vet as soon as the pet shows signs of head shaking and ear scratching. Catching an ear infection early on will prevent it from spreading to the middle ear where it can cause hearing loss as well as prevent it from causing chronic changes to the ear canal. Be sure to take your pet to the vet as soon as possible for a thorough examination. Please also note that it is of utmost importance that ear medication is used exactly as prescribed by your vet, if not, one may inadvertently create a resistant infection resulting in an endless battle to keep it under control.
A zoom in on ear infections
Here is a more detailed explanation of how ear infections occur:
Most commonly these include allergies and ear mites, which cause irritation and inflammation in the ear canal. This leads to excessive glandular and waxy secretions which provide the perfect environment for growth of all kinds of organisms.
These are mainly bacteria and yeast, these organisms grow and multiply in the comfortable environment caused by the primary factors. In other words, the ear canal is a warm, moist, dark area which is the perfect home for bacteria and yeast. These infections further worsen the inflammation already present in the ear canal.
These are generally conformation of the ear, for example excessive hair in the ear canal as in the case of poodles. German Shepherds on the other hand, have long, deep ear canals which are harder to clear of wax and secretions. Excessive moisture caused by swimming or humidity results in the ideal environment for yeast infections.
These are the more chronic changes that take place within the ear canal when an infection is not cleared or keeps returning. These include changes to the structure of the canal— whether it being narrow, or it having damaged wax glands, causing constant overproduction of wax and other secretions. This creates a vicious cycle in that it creates an even better environment in the ear for organisms to flourish.
How do vets diagnose ear infection?
Vets make use of an otoscope to look into the ear canal for changes and also to see whether the ear drum is intact. Then we take a sample from each ear and look at it under a microscope. In this way we are able to see if bacteria and/or yeast are present. Infection with cocci (round) bacteria and yeast is the most common whereas rod shaped bacteria are associated with more serious disease and also more often are the ones that show resistance to antibiotics.
How can I help to prevent ear disease in my dog?
- Making sure treatment for external parasites is up to date.
- Cleaning the ears once a week with a veterinary recommended ear cleaner, unless specified otherwise by your vet.
- Avoiding water close to the ears, and if the ears do get wet, drying them out may help. (Please note if your dog is prone to ear infections, it is best to avoid swimming at all costs.
- Acting quickly when your pet starts shaking their head or scratching their ears. Get them to the vet soon.
- Don’t put any substances in the pet’s ear without checking with the vet. These can do more harm than good.