Original article by Elizabeth Gigis, DVM, West Chester Veterinary Center
The most common cause for a dog to start shaking his head and scratching his ears is an ear infection. Most dogs have otitis externa, or an ear infection of the external ear canal. Dogs have a vertical and horizontal ear canal, and both are very long. In addition, many dogs have floppy ears, and this will trap dirt and moisture in the ear canal. Another common history is that the dog has had a bath or gone swimming. Water will sit in the ear canal and this will make the ear canal inflamed and infected. Many breeds such as poodles will also have hair in the ears, when not plucked regularly, will trap dirt and moisture, leading to infection. Other common causes are allergies, a foreign body in the ear (such as a plant) or ear mites.
All ear infections should be treated at the veterinarian’s office. Most topical preparations available over the counter for ear infections are not effective. If a dog’s ear drum is ruptured and some topical preparations are placed in the ear, then this can cause permanent damage to the inner ear and possibly even loss of hearing. A veterinarian will be able to look into the dog’s ear with an otoscope, a device with a light and a long cone, visualizing changes in the ear canal and the ear drum. Next, an ear cytology is usually performed to determine the cause of the ear infection. This is done by taking ear exudate, smearing it on a slide, staining the slide, and examining it under a microscope. That way, the cause of the infection can be appropriately treated. The most common cause of an ear infection is bacterial, yeast or mixed bacterial/yeast infection. Ear mites may also be visualized under the microscope.
Complications of ear infections can include a ruptured ear drum, where you may see some loss of balance, a head tilt, or unusual eye motion back and forth. These are all signs of vestibular disease. Middle ear infections can also cause paralysis of the facial nerve, which manifests as drooping of the skin and loss of sensation on that side of the face. Dogs that are very uncomfortable will scratch and shake excessively. This may lead to breakage of the small blood vessels in the ear pinna (external ear flap). The ear pinna will suddenly appear puffy and soft. This is called and aural hematoma. The veterinarian will treat this by draining the blood, placing a drain tube, and treating the ear infection.
If your dog has chronic, recurrent ear infections, then he may have an underlying condition such as allergies or a hormonal imbalance. Many dogs with food allergies will have ear infections as a primary symptom. If your dog has chronic, year-round allergies, it may be pertinent to place him on a food trial. Seasonal allergies or “atopic dermatitis” can also cause ear infections. Commonly, dogs will get ear infections at a certain time of year. There is allergy testing and treatment available for dogs. Hormonal imbalances that contribute to chronic ear infections include hypothyroism and Cushing’s disease. The thyroid controls the body’s metabolism. Cushing’s disease is an over-production of steroid hormone. Both of these diseases are diagnosed with blood testing and are treatable. It will likely be very hard to control the ear infections if one of these underlying conditions is present, until the condition is controlled.
Ear infections can sometimes be present for months to years. It is important to obtain a diagnosis early, before chronic ear changes. It is also important to have regular check-ups, use ear medications at home as prescribed, investigate all possible underlying conditions, and do weekly preventative maintenance. With the combination of aggressive diagnostics and treatment, almost all ear infections can be successfully treated.
Elizabeth Gigis, DVM
West Chester Veterinary Center
7330 Liberty Way, West Chester, OH 45069
Education is the first step in pet poison prevention.
Pet owners should take the time to educate themselves on the various, sometimes unexpected, pet poisons in their environments. The Pet Poison Helpline provides an extensive list of poisonous items for pet owners to be aware of, but here are a few of the most common items seen by veterinarians:
Many people believe certain dog breed, such as huskies and malamutes, are capable of living outside all of the time because of their thick coats. However, no dog breed should be consistently left unprotected outside. According to the City of Cincinnati, when the temperature is below 20 degrees Fahrenheit or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, a pet owner should not leave their dog outside for longer than sixty minutes without adequate shelter. For outside dogs, owners should provide a warm, dry, draft free shelter with fresh, unfrozen water. Heated water bowls are a great option to ensure consistent access to unfrozen water. Owners should also feed their outdoor dogs more during the winter because their bodies use more energy trying to keep warm. In 2016, the City of Cincinnati passed an ordinance with further restrictions and shelter guidelines for dog tethering and weather conditions, which can be found by clicking here
A common winter hazard that vets encounter consistently with cats is engine belt injuries. Cats will climb into cars to keep warm, and without knowing they’re there, people will start their cars and harm the cats. Before starting your car in the winter, it’s advised to give the car hood a few raps to make sure there are no cats cozied up inside.
Pets start an estimated 1,000 fires per year. While this isn’t a huge number, it’s easily preventable. Pet owners should identify the risks in their home and make sure they’re contained from pets. Risks to consider include, open flames such as candles, space heaters, stovetops, fireplaces, and frayed wires chewed by puppies.
Even if all fire hazards are contained from pets, there’s still always a chance of a house fire. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) , there’s a home fire reported every 86 seconds in the United States. So while the hope is that you and your pets never have to face a fire, it’s important to have a plan.
In case of a fire, pet owners should hang window clings that let firefighters know there’s a pet in the home. The ASPCA offers a free Pet Fire Safety Pack that includes a window decal. When leaving home, pet owners should know where their pets are and keep them close to exits if possible. Pet owners should also consider investing in monitored smoke detectors that alert homeowners of a fire when they’re not home and automatically dispatch firefighters.
Getting your dog microchipped is an easy and relatively inexpensive procedure that drastically increases the odds that your pet will find its way home if it’s ever lost. A microchip is a tiny chip that’s about the size of a grain of rice and contains a unique identification number. It’s injected into a pet’s skin between the shoulder blades on their back. When scanned with an electric scanner, the chip will show the unique identification number and manufacturer of the microchip. This unique identification number will be linked to the pet owner’s contact information in the microchip manufacturer’s database.
If a stranger ever finds your dog, a shelter or veterinarian can scan your pet for a microchip. Once they have the identification number and manufacturer from the chip reading, they will call the manufacturer in search of the pet owner’s contact information. Therefore, if a dog owner moves or changes their contact information, it’s extremely important for them to update the contact information associated with their pet’s microchip identification number.