Ear Flap (Pinna) Problems in Dogs
The ear flap, or pinna, is a sheet of cartilage covered on both sides by a layer of skin and hair. The pinna is often involved in diseases as part of a generalized process, especially in the case of allergic and autoimmune skin diseases.
Bites and Lacerations
It is not uncommon for the pinna to be injured during fights with other animals.
Treatment: Control bleeding and treat the wound as described in Wounds. Apply a topical antibiotic ointment such as triple antibiotic or Neosporin. Leave the ear uncovered, unless your dog shakes her head and reopens the wound so that bleeding restarts; in that case, you may need to bandage the ear to the head. Wounds caused by animal bites are often complicated by infection and must be watched carefully.
Large lacerations, and those involving the edges of the ears or the ear cartilage, should receive prompt veterinary attention. Surgical repair is necessary to prevent scarring and deformity. Your veterinarian may decide to bandage the ear to the head to keep it still for faster healing.
Allergic Otitis (Ear Allergy)
Dogs with canine atopy and food hypersensitivity dermatitis are predisposed to develop inflamed ears. In fact, ear involvement may be the only indication of an allergy. In dogs with ear allergies, an itch-scratch-itch cycle develops, resulting in excoriations, hair loss, scabs, and crusts about the ears. The ear canals are filled with a brown wax or, alternately, may appear very red, inflamed, and moist.
An allergic contact dermatitis can develop in ear canals that have been medicated with an ear preparation. The antibiotic neomycin is a frequent cause of this problem.
Treatment: Any underlying allergic skin disease must be treated to eliminate the ear symptoms. Treatment for itching involves the use of antihistamines and topical and oral corticosteroids. Discontinue any ear preparation that may be allergenic. An allergic otitis is often complicated by a bacterial or yeast infection that must also be treated.
Swollen Ear Flap
Sudden swelling of the ear flap can be caused by an abscess or hematoma. Abscesses frequently occur after dog fights. A hematoma is an accumulation of blood beneath the skin. One cause of hematoma is violent head shaking and scratching at the ear. The area will feel warm and slightly soft to the touch. It may be painful. Look for an underlying itchy ear disorder.
Treatment: Blood must be released from a hematoma to prevent scarring and ear deformity. Removing it with a needle and syringe (something your veterinarian must do) is effective in about 20 percent of cases. If serum accumulates in the drained blood pocket, treatment involves removing a window of skin to provide open and continuous drainage. Sutures are then made through both sides of the ear to pull the skin down and eliminate the pocket. Sometimes a drain will be installed under the skin of the ear to serve this same purpose. If the blood is not removed, the cartilage will curl down and deform the ear as the clot retracts inside.
Fly Bite Dermatitis
Biting flies can attack the face and ears of dogs, sucking blood and inflicting painful bites over the tips or bent folds of the ears. These bites are typically scabbed and crusty black, and they bleed easily. German Shepherd Dogs and other breeds with erect ears are most susceptible.
Treatment: Keep the dog indoors during the day until the wounds are healed. If you are unable to do so, apply insect repellant to the ear tips. Products approved for use around horses' eyes work well, such as Farnam's Fly Off Ointment. Keep the ears clean and dry to discourage flies. Infected ear tips should be treated with a topical antibiotic ointment such as triple antibiotic.
Ear fissure occurs in breeds with floppy ears. It results from intense scratching along with violent head shaking, which causes the ears to snap. The ear tips are denuded of hair and often become bloody. With continued trauma, the tips of the ears split and a crack in the skin, called a fissure, appears.
Treatment: The underlying irritation, often an external otitis, should be sought and treated to eliminate the head-shaking. Treat the ear tips by applying an antibiotic-steroid ointment such as Panolog once or twice daily. If the fissure does not heal, it may need to be surgically repaired. Bandaging techniques that prevent ear movement may help speed up healing.
This article is excerpted from “Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.
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