Otitis Externa – Also known as Ear Disease

Ear disease in companion animals is very common, and is linked to a variety of causes. I know we frequently treat it  and that it is one of the most common recurrent frustrations of many of our clients, and, of course, their pets.

The Clinician’s Forum’s August 2011 newsletter provided a great overview from which I will share the following highlights.

Most common causes/factors:
1) Allergies and parasites which directly cause the ear to become inflamed.
2) Bacterial and yeast infections which contribute to ear disease.

Ear mite infestation is most common in cats, followed by atopy (environmental allergies affecting the skin) and food sensitivity.

With dogs, the most common cause is atopy, followed by food sensitivity, with some dogs suffering from a combination of the both.  Exposure to foreign bodies, such as plant awns, also known as foxtails, can be a cause, particularly in late spring and summer in many western states like Arizona.

Atopy can be a complex disorder to explain, so I am going to simply include the description I obtained from Labbies.com’s article on Atopy as I thought it provided a good overview. Please remember that even though the overview focuses on dogs, both cats and dogs can suffer the disorder.

“Atopy is a disorder by which dogs have a predisposition for developing antibodies to environmental allergens. Atopy is the most common disorder causing hypersensitive skin reaction in non-flea allergic patients presenting with dermatitis and accounts for up to 70% to 90% of all hypersensitive conditions. As such, atopy is significantly more prevalent than food allergy in the canine, which accounts for up to only 10% to 30% of hypersensitive conditions. Furthermore, although it has been found that up to 10% of dogs with atopy may also have food allergy, up to 80% of the dogs diagnosed with food allergy will also have atopy, thus accounting for the high rate of failure to treat food-allergy patients through manipulation of diet alone.”

Bacterial and fungal infections, including infections with Pseudomonas, Staphylococcus and Malassezia, are also very common.

Lastly, some patients may react negatively to the very medications used to treat the condition. This is called topical ototoxicity.  Monitoring your pet’s reaction to any medication received is important for this reason. If you observe a negative reaction you should contact your veterinarian to discuss next steps.

It is also very important to give any prescribed medication specifically as directed.  Just because a pet’s condition seems to have improved (stops shaking head, scratching at ears), the behavior does not mean that the condition has been completely treated.

We have had some clients comment they stopped treatment so they would have the  medication on hand should the condition recur.  Stopping medication before completing the recommended course of treatment  makes it MUCH more likely that the condition WILL recur, and, possibly, with additional complications.

Ears that have been damaged over a long period of time often need to be continually treated.  However, repeated treatments can be minimized and possibly prevented by cleaning the ears quickly enough and frequently enough when debris begins to build up if caught before inflammation occurs.
We hope you find this information helpful and that your pet’s ears stay in good health!

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