It is 2:45 on a Friday, and I have already seen five dogs with ear infections today. If practice makes perfect, I could be a "Doggie ENT" (ear nose & throat specialist) by the end of the month. Some of these dogs have been suffering with on-again off-again ear problems for months to years.
A lot of people don't understand how or why their dogs keep getting these infections. They may blame the groomer "for getting water in my dog's ears," or the previous veterinarian "for not treating the infection properly in the first place."
I heard that one twice already today in cases where I was consulted for a second opinion.
The truth is, the majority of recurring ear infections in dogs are due to underlying allergies. The allergy causes the ears to become inflamed, the inflammation compromises the defense mechanisms in the ear, and the infection sets in. The allergies are usually to some food protein (70% are due to beef or dairy ingredients), or environmental allergens (dust, molds, pollen, etc...) The infection can be treated appropriately by the veterinarian, but another infection occurs later, because the allergy is still there.
A common complaint by our clients is our insistence on seeing their pet every time he gets another infection: "Doc, it looks just like it did last time. I don't need you to tell me what it is. Just give me more of the medicine I got last time." Here's why we don't like to do that: Inflamed/itchy/red/greasy/sore/swollen/etc... ears look pretty much the same regardless of whether the culprit is yeast, Staph, another bacteria called Pseudomonas, or just the allergy. Each of these situations should be treated differently. Indiscrimminant use of antibiotic and/or antifungal preparations are less likely to be effective, but more importantly can lead to resistant organisms - the kind that are killing people in human hospitals (Google "MRSA" if you don't know what I'm talking about.) So, yes, even though the ear looks the same to you, it may be a completely different organism (or no organism at all) causing the trouble.
The keys to effective management of reoccurring ear infections are good follow-up by the veterinarian, a cooperative pet owner, management of the underlying allergies, but most of all, great communication between the pet owner and the doctor.
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