Q7: What Are the Treatment Side Effects?
Dr. Cathy: Resistance is the biggest one. This happens when the bacteria in the ear are no longer killed by medication, and that is usually due to a medication not being used at the right strength or for the right amount of time.
Certainly, any dog can be allergic to the medication, especially if your vet prescribes oral medications rather than just topical medications. The steroids often given to treat ear infections cause horrible long-term side effects to the patients. Oral antibiotics can cause vomiting. Ear canal ablation—wow!! That’s a severe step to take to fight off an infection: cut it out! I guess that’s not my preferred method.
What Can Trigger An Ear Infection In Dogs?
Dog ear infections are fairly prevalent and can be caused by a variety of factors.
One of the most common causes is allergies. Just like people, dogs can be allergic to pollen, dust, and other things in their environment. When their allergies flare up, it can cause inflammation in their ear canal, which leads to an infection.
Another common cause of ear infections is excess moisture in the ear. This could be from swimming, showering, or even just being out in the rain. When moisture stays in the ear for too long, it provides a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi, which can cause an infection.
In addition, a buildup of residue or wax can also collect in the ears, especially in dogs with floppy, long ears like Cocker Spaniels and Hounds.
If your dog is prone to ear infections, there are a few things you can do to help prevent them. First, try to keep their ears as clean and dry as possible. If they swim often, use a dog-specific ear cleaner after each swim.
One of the major factors contributing to dog ear infections is their nutrition. Up to 80% of dogs with food sensitivities may have an ear infection at some stage of life! Feeding a top-quality, hypoallergenic dog food is one of the best ways to avoid these nasty infections that can lead to several complications requiring more serious medical care.
Q4: Will Swimming Put My Dog at Risk for Ear Infections?
Dr. Cathy: Any dog with healthy ears should have no problem with swimming. It is the dogs with unhealthy ears (which are swollen, a bit red, and basically inflamed) that have more problems with swimming.
The swollen ears hold in the moisture and make the infections worse.
How to Identify and Treat an Ear Infection in Your Dog
Our pet of the month for November is Ginny! She is a young dog who was diagnosed with a food allergy. Ginny’s food allergy was causing repeated ear infections and itchy skin.
Food allergies are caused by an abnormal immunologic response to a harmless ingested protein. In dogs, food allergies most often cause itchy skin and ears. This can lead to secondary infections of the skin and ears.
In order to be allergic to a particular protein, a dog must be repeatedly exposed. Most dogs have ingested the protein they are allergic to, for months to years prior to developing an allergy. It is highly unlikely that a dog would be allergic to a protein they have never eaten before. That being said, there are cross reactions between different proteins. This means that a dog can have a reaction to a particular protein even if they have never eaten it before. Proteins that we know can cross react are (chicken, duck, turkey), (beef, milk, lamb) and (chicken, fish). The most common food allergens in dogs are beef, chicken, lamb and wheat.
Any dog that has repeated ear and/or skin infections, anal glad infections/impactions and itching. It is impossible to distinguish between a food allergic dog and a dog with inhalant allergies (Atopy) based on symptoms alone. Veterinarians tend to be more suspicious of a food allergy if there are gastrointestinal symptoms as well as dermatologic symptoms, non-seasonal itching, and/or the symptoms started under 1 year of age.
The only way to diagnose a food allergy is to do a diet trial. A diet trial is when the diet is changed to a hypoallergenic diet.
A diet trial must be done for at least three months to clear the body of any past protein exposure. After three months, a food challenge can be done, where the suspected food allergen is fed again, to see if the patient reacts. Food allergic dogs will start itching within a few hours up to 10 days after the food challenge if they are allergic to that particular food item. A food challenge can be repeated for each protein source to specifically identify each protein the dog is reacting to. Without a food challenge, we cannot definitively diagnose a food allergy. If after 10 days of a food challenge, the dog has no symptoms, then a food allergy to that item is unlikely. In that case, inhalant allergies are more likely causing the dog’s symptoms.
When doing a food trial, it is important to use a prescription hypoallergenic diet or home cook. Over the counter dog foods can have traces of other protein sources that the dog could be reacting to which leads to confusion in interpreting the dog’s responses.
There are blood tests for food allergy available on the market. However, these are very inaccurate and a food allergy cannot be diagnosed or ruled out based on this. A food trial is the only way to diagnose a food allergy.
Prior to doing a food trial it is very important that the dog is on excellent flea control and that the skin/ear infections are treated. Both of these will cause continued itching, even if the underlying food allergy is treated.
In Ginny’s case, we controlled her ear and skin infections with topical medications and shampoos. We ensured she was on excellent flea control, then Ginny’s food trial was conducted with a hydrolyzed protein diet. Ginny improved significantly and shortly after her food challenge, she started itching again. A diagnosis of food allergy was confirmed and as long as she stays on her prescription food, her symptoms should be well controlled.
If you think your dog, or cat, may be experiencing symptoms of an allergy, please call Hawthorne Hills Veterinary Hospital and make an appointment. Our team is here to help!