Many pets have recurring ear problems throughout their lives. This condition can be very painful to the pet and frustrating and often times expensive for the owners of Alta Loma, Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, Ontario, Claremont, Fontana, and the Inland Empire. Chronic ear problems are typically caused by one or more of the following:

  1. Poor conformation of the ear canal as seen in the Shar-Pei Breed, where the ear canal is so narrow and convoluted, that it is very difficult to clean the ears or for air to circulate in the ear canal.
  2. Breed Predisposition: Certain breeds (such as the Cocker Spaniel) have an increased incidence of ear problems partly due to an increase in the wax producing cells in their ear canals compared to other dogs, and the weight of their long floppy ears which prevent circulation of air in the ear canal.
  3. Allergies: Most ear infections begin with an allergy to either something in the food, or from an inhaled allergen. The allergies cause the ears to itch and the pet scratches the ears in response. The chronic ear scratching causes the cartilage of the ear to thicken and secrete more wax. The lining of the canal gets broken and bacteria and yeast can get a foothold and start an infection.

Once the ear infections have gone on for a long time, the cartilage of the ear thickens and can even become mineralized so it is more like bone than flexible cartilage. The ear canal becomes very narrow and infectious agents can get stuck in the lower portion of the ear and sometimes penetrate into the skull through the ear drum to infect the middle and inner ear.

What can our veterinarians do to help these animals?

If our veterinarians can eliminate the source of the problem before the ear canal becomes rigid, frequently we can reverse many of the adverse changes in the ear. In order to do this, we have to test for allergies using a blood test or intra-dermal skin testing. If the pet is found to be allergic, then we can try to de-sensitize the body by administering a “vaccine” composed of minute quantities of the offending allergens. Over 1 to 2 years, the body may learn to tolerate the offending allergens. Unfortunately, this is a slow process and will not give immediate relief.

Since pets with allergies can have both inhalant allergies and food allergies, we typically put the pet on a specially formulated hypo-allergenic diet called Hill’s Z/D Ultra. During a 6 to 8 week trial, your pet must be given nothing else but this food to help us rule out food as part of the problem. In the cases where the food change or desensitization process stops the chronic ear itching, the ears will be able to return to a more normal state.

Recently, cold laser therapy has been shown to be helpful in reducing the inflammation and swelling of the ear canal and increases rate of healing of the infections.

In the case of poor conformation, breed predisposition and/or chronically infected ears, surgery may be our best option. There are two surgical techniques that can be employed to reduce the incidence and severity of these ear infections. The Lateral Ear Resection technique removes the outer portion of the vertical canal. By doing this, we eliminate the deep dark hole in which the infections perpetuate. Once the canal is opened, the owners can clean the ears easily and the problems subside.

In cases where the infection has crossed into the middle ear, a technique called a bulla osteotomy/canal ablation must be employed. In this surgery, the entire ear canal is removed, and the middle ear (the bulla) is opened and drained. This surgery results in loss of hearing in the affected ear, but usually the pets are not hearing in this ear anyway.

Both surgeries are very cosmetically pleasing (once they have healed). The floppy part of the ear (pinna) is left fully intact and most of the time you can’t even tell that a surgery was performed.

Lateral Ear resection – Notice the open vertical canal

Lateral Ear Resection – Notice that the floppy portion of the ear is untouched

Lateral ear resection – Notice with the ear in its normal position