and Christie Keith
Universal Press Syndicate
Does the smell of your dog's ears arrive in the room before he does? Does he keep you up at night shaking his head and digging at his ears? He likely has an ear infection.
Understanding canine ear infections won't just make your dog more comfortable or even help you sleep. Their early diagnosis and treatment can prevent a lifetime of ear problems and even save your dog's hearing.
"Ear infections that are not caught early and aggressively treated cause chronic pathologic changes to the lining of the ear canal," warns Dr. Catherine Outerbridge, a professor of dermatology at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine.
Long before the dog is shaking his head or producing that smelly discharge, there are small changes happening inside the dog's ears. First, the cells of the ear canal -- an L-shaped tube that runs from the outer ear to the eardrum -- become inflamed and swollen, narrowing the channel.
The ear canal is lined with glands that produce wax and keep the canal moist. A small number of normally harmless bacteria and yeast live in that waxy coating, kept in check by the conditions of the healthy ear canal. When a dog's ear becomes inflamed, that balance is disturbed. The increased heat of an inflamed ear causes the wax glands to become larger and more active, helping create what Outerbridge calls "a perfect incubator" for bacteria and fungus.
If a dog has a single ear infection, diagnosis by your veterinarian and treatment with prescription ear medication can put an end to the story. But in dogs with underlying conditions that cause inflammation, most commonly some kind of allergy, that's just the beginning.
Every time the dog's ears become inflamed, the ear canal becomes scarred and narrower, while the wax glands become larger and more active. This sets up a vicious cycle of inflammation, moisture, itching and infection that is increasingly hard to break. Eventually, bacteria and yeast can spread into the inner ear and even infect the bulla, an empty bony space behind the eardrum. Such infections are painful, can only be treated surgically and can cause deafness.
The key to breaking that cycle is preventing inflammation whenever possible. If allergies are at the root of your dog's ear infections, work with a veterinary dermatologist to bring them under control.
Swimming can also trigger ear infections, but it's probably not the water alone that's responsible. Some of the breeds that love to swim are also those with allergy problems. "Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers," said Outerbridge. "Highly allergy-prone dogs."
Genetics can also play a role in chronic ear infections, and breeds including the shar-pei and the cocker spaniel have more than their fair share of problems. Most people attribute the cocker's problems to his long, hanging ears. But, as Outerbridge points out, bassett hounds have the same kind of ears without suffering from ear infections the way cockers do.
"It's not their big ears," she said. "They seem to have larger and more numerous earwax glands than any other dog breed."
Whether the cause of your dog's chronic ear infections is allergies, genetics, swimming or some combination of all three, the cure is the same. Since heat and moisture are the enemies, ask your veterinarian to recommend a product to keep your dog's ears clean and dry. Use it regularly. But if you spot signs of inflammation -- such as redness, itching or head shaking -- act quickly.
Every day that your dog's ears are inflamed and infected causes permanent damage to the ear canal and makes future infections more frequent and severe. Seek veterinary care right away, and be sure to follow through on the course of treatment. Your dog will thank you.
Swimming dogs need to keep their ears dry
If your dog loves to swim but also tends to get ear infections, keep his ears clean and dry when he's not in the water.
Start with a formula recommended by your dog's veterinarian, but realize that not every cleaning agent is right for all dogs. As veterinary dermatologist Dr. Catherine Outerbridge points out, the goal of keeping your dog's ears clean is preventing inflammation. So immediately stop using any product that leaves the dog's ears reddened or warm, or seems to bother him.
She also recommends avoiding any commercial or homemade cleansers that contain alcohol, hydrogen peroxide or gentian violet -- all of which can inflame the ears. For a homemade recipe, she recommends using two parts water to one part table vinegar.
A convenient option is a medicated wipe. MalAcetic Wet Wipes from DermaPet combine acetic acid -- which is found in vinegar -- with boric acid, and they help prevent the overgrowth of yeast and bacteria that can thrive in a wet ear canal. Toss them in with your dog towel, and clean your dog's ears as soon as he comes out of the water. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Christie Keith
Golden's behavior needs to be changed
Q: We have an adorable 3-year-old neutered golden retriever. Baxter belonged to a military family in San Diego. When the family was deployed to Japan, they asked my son, Derek, to take him. Derek was just finishing up his five-year service in the Marines, and Derek and Baxter traveled home from San Diego to Georgia.
Derek is now attending college and lives in an apartment. My husband and I live on a farm, and Baxter now lives with us. We really enjoy Baxter, but when he gets excited playing or is with a new visitor, he wants to "hump" them. He was neutered as a pup. So why does he want to do this? -- V.S., via e-mail
A: Humping looks like an R-rated movie, so people assume it is sexual. But this behavior is seen in puppies and (as you've seen) in male dogs who have been neutered. Even some female dogs do it.
One theory says humping is how some dogs take charge or control of a dog, person or object (such as a pillow). Another theory equates humping with dogs who feel uncertain about their status or role in a given situation. In Baxter's case, I would guess all the changes have left him somewhat confused about the rules. Baxter probably needs more structure and clarity on how to be an acceptable canine in a human world.
Dogs learn faster and better from positive reinforcement than they do from punishment. That means stopping all punishment and being clear about behaviors you want.
If Baxter has not been trained, find a basic obedience class that uses gentle, reward-based methods. Complement the training at home by insisting that Baxter sit to earn everything he wants -- greetings, games and meals. Ask your guests to join you in completely ignoring Baxter, not even looking at him or touching him, until he is calm enough to sit and remain sitting for his greeting. This will help Baxter learn self-control.
If Baxter gets too excited, instruct him with a "sit" or "down" command, and praise him for following instructions. Do not allow Baxter to get too revved up during play, now that you know too much excitement can lead to humping. When people visit, you can leash Baxter to a solid object to help keep him settled.
You will be more successful with Baxter's training if you teach him what to do instead of focusing on what not to do. Make it your goal to prevent Baxter from humping by asking him to sit. But if you do see it, interrupt Baxter without any emotion and give him a brief time out to calm down.
When Baxter figures out how to get the attention and fun he craves by sitting and following instructions, and that he won't gain anything from humping, it should stop over time. -- Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp
Grass-eating not about tummy upset
-- Most people believe that when a cat chews on grass, it's because of an upset tummy. While that may factor into the urge to graze on some occasions, it's more likely that cats eat grass simply because they like to. And the fiber probably helps with digestion.
-- A pregnant goldfish is called a twit.
-- Dogs find human yawns contagious, suggesting they have a rudimentary capacity for empathy, reported British scientists in the journal Biology Letters. Although yawning is widespread in many animals, contagious yawning -- a yawn triggered by seeing others yawning -- previously has been shown to occur only in humans and chimpanzees. It turns out, however, that man's best friend is highly sensitive to catching human yawns, with 72 percent of 29 dogs tested yawning after observing a person doing so.
-- Cats are able to squeeze through spaces that seem narrower than they are because they don't have a rigid collarbone to block their way through nooks and crannies. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a monthly drawing for more than $1,000 in pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Internet scares: Where to go for the facts
Every pet lover with an e-mail address has at one time or another -- or time and time again -- received warnings on potentially deadly pet hazards. Warnings have ranged from produce (grapes and raisins) to garden products (mulch made of cocoa hulls) to name-brand household cleaning products (Swiffer WetJet and Febreze).
Problem is, not all warnings are what they seem to be. Some may be well-intentioned but wrong, while others may be possibly motivated by a campaign against a particular company and also wrong. And then there are those that are legitimate concerns.
How can you tell the legit from the bogus?
The first stop for any pet lover investigating an Internet warning should be the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' poison information site (www.aspca.org/APCC).
The APCC veterinarians respond quickly to Internet warnings, providing information on which reports are a real concern and which should not be. Internet scares covered by the APCC include grapes and raisins (potentially toxic), cocoa-hull mulch (potentially toxic), and Swiffer WetJet and Febreze (safe when used as directed).
If you don't find what you're looking for at the APCC Web site, check out Snopes.com, arguably the best resource for checking out urban legends and e-mail hoaxes of all varieties. The site offers an extensive collection of information on common animal-related myths.
In the name of fairness to your friends, don't forward any kind of e-mail warning without checking it out on the APCC and Snopes.com Web sites first. If you cannot verify the claims in any e-mail, the only proper thing to do is hit "delete." -- Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
Doghouse? Your house!
Fewer dogs are spending their entire lives outdoors, according to a survey of pet lovers. Where dogs hang out:
During the day
Indoors 47 percent
Outdoors 20 percent
Indoors and outdoors 33 percent
During the night
Indoors 65 percent
Outdoors 16 percent
Indoors and outdoors 15 percent
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Bribery makes cats attentive
Do you wish your cat were more eager to hang out with you? Try a strategy to give your cat a greater appreciation for the hand that feeds him.
First, feed him meals instead of leaving food out. Call your kitty to eat and then take a seat and relax. Toss a kibble near your hungry cat to bat around or just gobble. As this game progresses, toss the kibble closer to you. Then hold the kibble in your fingers for your cat to sniff before dropping it.
Over time, your cat will be more eager to be by your side and may even seek you out when hunger strikes. Aloof cats need to know that food does not come from the cat god in the sky -- you are the source of all that's yummy.
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
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