DEAR DR. FOX: My 4-year-old cocker spaniel was just diagnosed with Pseudomona infections in his ear canals. Could you explain how veterinarians can diagnose this, how to treat it and how difficult it is to eliminate? This is my second cocker spaniel from the same breeder, and the first also had Pseudomona infections very badly. He had to have part of his ear canal removed. It seems so strange that both dogs have had this problem. Is it common with cocker spaniels?
Also, this same little dog has lost 5 pounds over the last month. We're having him checked for diabetes, and they found a cataract in one of his eyes. Could there be some underlying issue that we might be missing? -- M.G., Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
DEAR M.G.: Your dog's condition is called otitis externa, and it is a common complaint in dogs. It is an inflammation of the external ear canal, which consists of the pinna (earflap) and the vertical and horizontal ear canals up to the level of the tympanum (eardrum). In many instances of otitis externa, there is a secondary infection from a fungus or bacterium.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a common germ to find in soil, water and decaying organic matter, but it is not a normal inhabitant of the canine ear. When it shows up there and leads to infection, it can be challenging to manage; treatment is further complicated by the growing number of drug-resistant strains.
Dogs with heavy, pendulous ears and with fur growing in the external ear canal (which should be routinely removed) are prone to developing the kind of moist conditions ideal for the proliferation of these microorganisms. So genetics, in terms of ear conformation and fur around the pinna, do play a significant role in dogs developing otitis externa. Food allergies and autoimmune disease may also play a role, along with nutrient deficiency, especially in omega-3 fatty acids.
For dogs with ears like the cocker spaniel, it can help to hold the ears up and open for a few hours, especially after routine ear cleaning, to allow them to dry more thoroughly. To accomplish this, tie a ribbon to the fur on the end of each ear, then lift the ears up and tie the ribbons together on top of the dog's head. This is best done in the evening when the dog is quiet.
High humidity in summer and low indoor humidity in winter can both take their toll on dogs' ear canals. Veterinarians can supply appropriate ear-cleaning products to help. As a general health-maintenance practice, I recommend working a few drops of organic, cold-pressed olive oil into each ear canal with a cotton ball. Help may be needed to keep the dog's head still.
When there is evident inflammation, and the dog is scratching and rubbing one or both ears and shaking his head, an immediate veterinary appointment is called for. Otherwise, infection could spread to penetrate the eardrum, causing middle-ear disease, disrupting balance and even resulting in loss of hearing. Violent headshaking can break blood vessels in the pinna, which can turn into a hematoma (blood blister). This would need surgical correction to prevent a crumpled ear developing as the blood clot shrinks.
When treatment for fungal or bacterial infection is delayed, or is ineffectual, the inflamed external ear canals become thickened and corrugated with pockets that are impossible to properly clean. In that case, surgical opening of part of the ear canal is called for, as you experienced with your previous dog. In many instances where conventional antifungal and antibiotic treatments fail, dogs can be helped by an over-the-counter product called Zymox Plus. Alternatively, rinsing each external ear canal with warm aloe vera liquid every week may help. When the ear canals are dry, use a cotton ball to deliver a good smearing of a mixture of 100 drops of olive oil and 5 drops each of the essential oils of thyme and lavender, both known for their antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Dogs having acute and painful external ear issues may need sedation and analgesia: In some instances, the culprit may be an invading grass seed awn, or ear mites from an infested cat. Fur loss and redness behind one or both ears should not be mistaken for a local skin infection, but rather a result of the dog scratching because of the discomfort. Also, cancerous growths can develop in the external ear canal and require biopsy testing and surgical removal.
As for the possible diabetes and eye cataract in such a young dog, I would see what your veterinarian suggests. You should also confirm that you are feeding your dog a complete, balanced diet, and contact the breeder about this issue. These health issues could have a hereditary basis, and the breeder must keep progeny health records to ensure sound breeding stock.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)