Ask the Vet - Dr. Whitehead • Dr. Forsythe


Hear me out

Dear Dr. Forsythe:  I am so tired of my pet’s ears and the constant problems he has.  “Ross” has had ear infections since he was a year old.  He just turned five and got another ugly infection that required more cleanings and medicine that really doesn’t seem to help too much.  He has gotten quite squirrelly when we try to clean his ears out and put the drops in.  He has even taken to snapping, and got my wife pretty good yesterday.  So now it’s about getting a muzzle on him and doing a choke hold, which kinda feels like torture.  Just seems like we’re heading fast to nowhere. Any suggestions?

Really done with ears

Dear Really: I’m really sorry to hear about the ear dilemma you have with Ross. Chronic ear problems can be very frustrating and difficult to handle because they can stem from many different causes.  Some dogs have allergies to the environment, to parasites or to food that can cause ears to flare up over and over.  Other pets get recurring infections from swimming or digging around in soil, leaves or debris.  Certain breeds, such as the Bassett, have a genetic predisposition to ear infections because of the size, shape or “floppiness” of their ears.  Still other dogs such as the Cocker Spaniel tend to have narrow ear canals and produce excessive amounts of oils which tend to incite chronic ear problems.

One school of thought is to be aggressive early when diagnosing ear problems in the dog. This means that it can very illuminating for the veterinarian to get a good ear swab and perform cytology under the microscope to see just what types of organisms are “growing” in your pet’s ears.  A quick gram stain will color the leave certain bacteria pink and stain the rest purple. This identification of gram “positive” or gram “negative” in the ear canals or the presence of small yeast called “malassesia” can greatly help determine which therapy will be most helpful most quickly.

In addition, when the doctor takes a sterile swab and sends it to the lab for an aerobic “culture/sensitivity” test, this will yield the actual type, if any, of specific species of bacteria growing in your dogs ears as well as determine which antibiotic will be effective in killing that germ.  Of course, running these tests can cost a few hundred dollars, and many clients just don’t have the budget to pay these lab fees.  Consequently, we veterinarians often do the best we can in a limited financial situation and try sending home the most effective medicines that work in most cases — hoping that by showing clients how to clean ears and place medications, the problem will clear up.

Although your question gave me limited background information as to what tests (if any) were ever done on Russ back when this lengthy and miserable ear situation began, if those important tests were never done on Russ, this could be the reason why his ears remain a troubling and painful problem.  I would suggest speaking with your veterinarian about stepping things up a bit in order to really find out exactly WHY his ears are so chronically painful.  Getting a detailed, accurate diagosis would likely enable more focused, pinpoint treatment to get those ears under control once and for all.

In my opinion, poor Russ is acting completely normal for a pet that is frustrated, in pain, and just doesn’t understand why the problem is getting resolved.  Please don’t give up.  This isn’t rocket science, it’s chronic-otitis. Don’t give up until you get some results!!

Dr. F


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